Letters concerning the love of God between the author of the Proposal to the ladies and Mr. John Norris, wherein his late discourse, shewing that it ought to be intire and exclusive of all other loves, is further cleared and justified
Norris, John, 1657-1711., Astell, Mary, 1668-1731.
Page  250

LETTER XI. To Mr. Norris.


THough I intimated in my last that I had concluded my Me∣ditations on this Subject, yet I find like its divine Object it has no Bounds. And besides the natural Vastness of the Argument, your convincing and pathetick Discour∣ses so rouze my Understanding, so chafe my Affections and enlarge my Thoughts, that I have once more resumed this noble, this pleasing, this perfective Theme, which is the Solace of my Heart, the Entertain∣ment, not only of my Leisure, but of my most busie and best employ∣ed Page  251 Hours. For what have we to do, what is it that deserves to be the Business of rational Creatures but to adore and love their Maker? It were not worth while to live in the World, were it not to love GOD and pay our Devoirs to him; and could the Atheists and Hypo∣thesis possibly be true, our greatest Wisdom wou'd be with all Expedi∣tion to hasten out of it.

But though the Account you give of the Love of GOD be so ac∣curate and entertaining, yet I don't in the least wonder that you com∣prehend this sacred Theory so fully, and explain it so efficaciously, since the great Evidence of divine Love has assured us that he will manifest himself to them that love him; they shall see him, whilst the blind World has no Vision of his Beau∣ty; they only can declare the Sweet∣ness Page  253 of this hidden Manna, who taste and feed on and are in∣timately acquainted with it.

Nor need you wonder at my Prolixity which you are pleased to encourage and commend, because it is an Evidence that whatever my Understanding be, my Will is right, and though I am very sensi∣ble the one is too defective to de∣serve Commendations for its Noti∣ons, yet you are pleased to overlook its Imperfections on account of the Honesty and Regularity of the other. Love you know is talka∣tive, as its Thoughts are ever busi∣ed in contemplating, so is its Tongue in displaying the Beauties of its Object; it wou'd have all the World admire that which it doats on, and every thing he sees or hears serves to excite the dear Idea in a Lovers Mind. This we may ob∣serve Page  252 when the Object is finite, and perhaps unworthy of our Choice, and well may the Observation hold when our Hearts are united to infinite Perfection, when all the beauteous things that surround us are but faint Shadows of our Be∣loved's Excellencies, when our Lof∣tiest Praises are no better than De∣tractions, and the highest Pitch of Love we can possibly skrew up our Souls unto, infinitely unworthy of him, were it possible to offer more. When therefore in my so∣litary Musings I entertain my self with these agreeable Contemplati∣ons, I fancy the whole intellectu∣al World is offering up it self a fla∣ming Sacrifice to GOD, and that there is no Contention among intel∣ligent Beings but who shall with greatest Ardor love, praise, and serve the glorious Author of their Page  254 Happiness! Whatever it is, I am sure it ought to be so: For who can forbear to admire Beauty when plainly represented to his Eye? Or to be ravished with harmonious Numbers when they briskly strike his Ear? Who is so dull as not to desire what is lovely, and relish what is good? Why then is he not affected, nay, why is he not trans∣ported when caressed by all that is good, and all that is lovely! When the Fruition of Beauty, and Har∣mony, and Goodness in the Ab∣stract are offered to him? Why we shoud with-hold our Hearts from GOD, when it is not more our Duty than our Interest and Happi∣ness to offer them to him, I confess I cannot yet discern. And though much has been said to account for this Absurdity, yet I must needs own it still employs my Wonder. Page  254 For why should even our Affecti∣ons oppose the Love of GOD, since it does not deprive them of any real good, why should they not ra∣ther close with it, since its only De∣sign is to satisfie and perfect them? Our very lower Appetites will find more true Satisfaction in the Ser∣vice of GOD and Reason, than in their own irregular and exorbitant Sway. Sure I am that a Man may be much happier by withdrawing his Heart from the Creature than he can be in cleaving to it. Nay, (let it look never so much like a Paradox) 'tis impossible for him to be in any Degree happy, whilst misplaced Affections do so far pre∣vail as to denominate him an irre∣gular Lover and wicked Man. So true is that saying I have some∣where met with, that there is no Joy but in GOD, and no Sorrow but Page  259 in an evil Conscience. But admit∣ting the Creature were able to en∣tertain us, what wise Man wou'd think much to relinquish a lesser for a greater good, or shew any In∣clination for lower Delights when courted to the Enjoyment of the highest? Why then do we relish any other Pleasure? Since there is as much Difference betwixt this and all other Delights, as between the Quintessence and the Faeces, the kindly Work of Nature, and the preternatural Operations of Medi∣cine? Other Loves, even the very best, have somewhat of Grossness in them which offends even whilst they please, and have always their Pleasure mixed with Pain; where∣as Divine Love is so connatural to the true Taste and Relish of the Soul, that although the Sentiments it excites are highly ravishing and Page  257 entertaining, though they fill every Faculty with a full Tide of Joy, they are withal so pure and undi∣sturbing that they are Sweets that know no Bitter, Joys without Al∣lay, Pleasures that have no Sting, such as I would fain describe, but that I am not Mistris of Eloquence enough to express them. But whatever it be in which a Man finds the greatest Delight, let him abstract from it all that is uneasie and disgusting, let him double and treble the Joy, let his working Fan∣cy exalt it to the utmost Heighth, and perhaps it may afford him some faint Idea of this delightful Love, which yet Experience will convince him falls as short of it as artificial Fruits do of the natural and true. All which does only encrease my wonder why there are so few Vota∣ries to this only real Bliss! For Page  258 why a Man shou'd reject his Hap∣piness is a Question we can never answer, but that he does, is what we daily see. Well then may it repent GOD that he has made Man, since Man has made himself such an absurd, irrational Creature! Well may the Divine Goodness passionately exclaim, O that they were wise! O that there were such an Heart in them, since 'tis impossible, even to an Almighty Power to make him happy who is resolved he will not be so. And herein methinks appears the Devil's greatest Master∣piece, that he can give such a false Representation of things, and so much to our Disadvantage as to put us upon the violent Pursuit of good where we can never find it, and to blind us so that we may not discern it where it is, and our own most notorious Folly in being so wretch∣edly Page  259 imposed on by him. For cer∣tainly the Ways of Vice are as toil∣some and uneasie as they are foolish and absurd; they are not only un∣profitable but unpleasant too, the Consideration of which is the reason why I was so desirous of a Definition of Pleasure from your ac∣curate Pen. For Pleasure as I take it is the grand Motive to Action, and after all the Thoughts I have employed about the matter, I am not able to conceive how there can be any such thing as Pleasure in ought but Virtue, nor consequent∣ly what Inducement to any other Course: 'Tis as irrational to look for Pleasure from eccentrick Actions, as to expect Harmony from an In∣strument unstrung and out of tune. As therefore the Love of GOD is the Sum of our Duty, so by conse∣quence 'tis the Heighth of our Plea∣sure, Page  260 the Joy of the whole Man; and were we not strange unaccount∣able Creatures, it wou'd be the Bu∣siness of our Lives, the End of all our Actions. I will not therefore search for Arguments to enforce this Love, after those incomparable ones you have so well inculcated, which are indeed unanswerable, and not to be opposed by any thing but that which is as unconquerable as 'tis unaccountable, wilful Folly, for if we are resolved not to pra∣ctise, the Wonder is the less that we are averse to admit the Truth of this Theory. Certain it is, would we but make the Tryal, our own Experience would supersede the Trouble of Dispute. The Fruiti∣on of so perfect and all-sufficient a Being, wou'd convince us that he who is altogether and infinitely love∣ly is worthy of all our Love. For Page  261 after all the Arguments we can urge, after all the Swasives we can offer, there is none like to that of the Psalmist, O taste and see that the Lord is gracious! Wou'd we but open our Souls wide to receive his Influences, we shou'd need no more Conviction that 'tis he, and he only who can replenish and content them, and therefore 'tis he only who ought to possess them. And were I wri∣ting to the World, to Persons not sensible of their Obligations, I wou'd desire them only to open their Eyes, to fix their Thoughts steddily on the Divine Beauty, and then tell me if there be any thing fit to rival him, or if that Creature be worthy of his Love who can di∣vide the least Grain of his Affecti∣ons from him, or can discern Ama∣bility in any thing besides him? I wou'd intreat them if they will not Page  262 be active in kindling this Divine Fire, to be passive at lest, not to skreen themselves from his Beams, nor put a wilful Bar to exclude the natural Operations of his Excel∣lencies (for this stubborn Will of Man, weak as he is, does often check Omnipotence) and then let me ask them if they do not feel the Rays of his Goodness sweetly insi∣nuating into every Part, clearing up the Darkness of their Understan∣dings, warming their benummed Affections, regulating their ob∣lique Motions, and melting down their obstinate, ingrateful, disin∣genuous Wills? Do they not feel these Cords of a Man as himself is pleased to call them, these silken Bands of Love, these odoriferous Perfumes drawing them after him, uniting them to him by the most potent Charms? Can they any lon∣ger Page  263 refrain from crying out, Thou hast overcome, O Lord thou hast overcome, ride on triumphantly, lead my Soul in Triumph as thy own Captive, thy Love has con∣quered and I am thine intirely and for ever. And blessed is the Man that is so overcome! He never lived till now, nor knew what Pleasure meant; some Shews of it might tantalize and abuse him, but now he is delivered from that Enchant∣ment, and has free Access to the Ocean of Delight, he may now take full Draughts of Bliss, without fear of want or Danger of Satiety! He may—what shall I say? He may be as happy as his Nature will permit, and has nothing to hinder him from being infinitely so, but that he is finite and a Crea∣ture!

Page  264

And now if our happy Man be so sensible of his Bliss, that he is desirous by all means to confirm and secure it; I know no better way than by frequently contemplating the infinite Loveliness and Love of GOD. For as it was this that be∣gat Love, so this must preserve and continue it, nor is it possible it should ever go out so long as he sup∣plies it with this Fuel. And if for the greater Security of his Happi∣ness, and that he may not deceive himself in a matter of so vast Impor∣tance, since most Men will take it very ill to have it said that they are not Lovers of GOD, and yet there are but few who really are so, if on this Consideration he be inquisitive after the genuine Properties of Di∣vine Love, (besides what has already more loosely been hinted at,) the great comprehensive and inseparable Page  265 Effect of it is universal Obedience, as I intimated in my last. But to be more particular; a flaming Love to GOD will create the greatest In∣difference imaginable towards the World and all things therein. For since all those Tyes are broke that glewed us to it, we are no longer moved or affected by it. I need not tell you Sir, that a passionate Lover is careless to all things but the Object of his Desire; if that smile, no matter who frowns on him. Those Objects which other Persons pursue with Eagerness, enjoy with Complacency and lose with Re∣gret, are unmoving and cold to him, he is not sensible of their Charms, nor are the Avenues of his Soul open to any thing but what he loves. Other things he beholds at a distance, they may slightly touch and pass away, but cannot pene∣trate. Page  266 But where-ever his Beloved is interessed his Soul is all on fire, he does not pursue his Service with a languid and frozen Application, but with the Diligence and Zeal of Love. He will not for the pet∣ty Interests that self proposes, con∣nive at the Injuries that are offered to his better self. He will not see his Beloved affronted, his Laws contemned, and his Designs oppo∣sed, and tamely stand by and hold his Peace; nor does he regard what himself may suffer, but only what Service he can reasonably hope to do; and never is chary of any of those things we usually call our own, whether Fortune, or Fame, or Life it self, but only deliberates how he may reserve them for the most opportune Season of expend∣ing them freely in his Beloveds Ser∣vice. There's nothing bitter and Page  267 uneasie in Love, the greatest La∣bours are Delights, for what so grateful to a Lover as the Difficul∣ty of a Service, because it eminent∣ly recommends that Passion which could surmount it? On which ac∣count Love by making Religion our Business and Interest, our Joy and Pleasure, takes off that Unea∣siness, which though really we do not find we however fancy to be in it, by viewing it only in the un∣pleasant Prospect of mere Task and Duty.

Again, Love cuts off all narrow and illiberal Thoughts, gives the most genteel and generous Tem∣per to the Soul, it extinguishes all Jealousies and Suspitions, tormen∣ting Cares and desponding Fears; it has a Salve for every cross Event, and a Sagacity to read GOD's Kind∣ness in such Providences as are vul∣garly Page  268 resolved into his Displeasure. Hence it is the Parent of the most intire Resignation, and exact Con∣formity. A true Lover neither questions GOD's Revelations nor disputes his Commands, deliberates no further than to obtain a good As∣surance that such and such things are really his Will and Pleasure. He does not only submit to his Dispensations how disagreeable so∣ever to Flesh and Blood and his own Expectation; this a Man must of necessity do, and therefore I can∣not discern wherein the Virtue of a bare Submission consists, such a passive Obedience to GOD is like the new Notion some have got of passive Obedience to their Gover∣nors, a being content to suffer when we know not how to help it; but our Divine Amorist has an intire Complacency in whatever GODPage  269 allots, he in a manner goes forth to meet it, chuses, justifies, and re∣joyces in it.

But I must not omit what the holy Scripture makes a peculiar Character and special Effect of Di∣vine Love, and that is the Love of our Neighbour. That it is so needs no Proof, being expresly affirmed by our Lord himself and his beloved Disciple, let us inquire a little in∣to the Reason why it is so, which seems to be this. GOD by the Prerogative of his Nature, his in∣finite Beneficence and Love to us, having a Right to all our Love, whether it be Love of Desire or Love of Benevolence, but withal, being no proper Object of the latter, by reason of his infinite Ful∣ness, has therefore thought fit to devolve all his Right to that Love on our Neighbour, and to require Page  270 as strict a Payment of it to his Proxy, as if he were capable of receiving it himself. By this Notion we may fairly understand St. Iohn's reason∣ing in his 1st. Epist. Chap. 4. 20. a Text which those Expositors that I have met with give methinks but a crude Interpretation of. And be∣sides, the Love of GOD pressing us to such an exact Imitation of him (as I shewed in my last) and GOD being in nothing more imitable than in his Charity and Communicative∣ness, our Love to him will require us to transcribe this most lovely Pattern, and to do all the good we can to those whom he is constantly pursuing with his Benefits.

It likewise teaches us the true Measure of Benevolence, which is to bestow the greatest Share of our Love on those who are dearest to GOD and do most resemble him: Page  271 I cannot forbear to reckon it an irre∣gular Affection, and an Effect of Vitious Self-love, to love any Per∣son merely on account of his Rela∣tion to us. All other Motives be∣ing equal, this may be allowed to weigh down the Scale; but cer∣tainly no Man is the better in him∣self for being akin to me, and no∣thing but an overweaning Opinion of my self can induce me to think so. I should therefore chuse to derive the Reasons why we are in the first place to regard our Relati∣ons, rather from Justice, and the Rules of Oeconomy, than from Love. For since the Abilities of Man are finite and determinate, and he cannot universally extend any Act of Benevolence but Prayers and Wishes, 'tis therefore reasonable he should begin to communicate his Benefits to those within his own Page  272 Verge and District, whose Wants he is best acquainted with, and can most conveniently supply; whose Benefits to him are presumed to re∣quire this Return, or else their Ne∣cessities bespeak him the fittest Au∣thor of their Relief.

I further observe, that Resigna∣tion and Charity are the Tests by which GOD explores every Man's Love. By the one he tries the prosperous, by the other the af∣flicted. He therefore who has this Worlds good, and with-holds his Assistance from his Brother who needs it; and he who because he has not the good things of this World murmurs and grudges at their Dispensation, and envies them that have, cannot be said to have the Love of GOD in him.

Page  273 In the last place, a true Lover of GOD is always consistent with himself, one Part of his Life does not clash and disagree with the other. He that has many Loves, has by consequence many Ends; whence it is that we too often see many who in the main are good People, lash out into some particu∣lar Irregularity, which like a Fly in a Box of Oyntment, marrs the Sweetness, and destroys the Love∣liness of their Virtue, and brings a Reproach on Religion it self. The vulgar and Men of carnal Ap∣petites partly out of Ignorance, and partly to lighten as they fancy their own Crimes, being too prone to reflect that Dash of secular In∣terest, that time-serving or over∣great Solicitude for the World, or perhaps their too great Opinion of themselves, or Censoriousness on Page  274 others, which zealous Pretenders to Piety are sometimes apt to slip into, even on that unblemished Beauty, whose Livery they wear, which I am sure gives no Allow∣ance to such unsuitable Mixtures, however her Votaries happen to admit them, But when we act by this one grand Principle, the Love of GOD, our Lives are uniform and regular wherein the great Beauty of Piety consists. For I am apt to think that be Mens Pretences what they will, that Life only is tru∣ly religious which is all of a Piece; when a Man having de∣liberately bottomed on well-cho∣sen and solid Principles, with∣out Fear or Favour acts con∣stantly and steddily according to them.

To conclude, this Divine Love is the Seal of our Adoption, the Page  275 Earnest of the Spirit in our Hearts, it being impossible that the Soul that truly loves GOD should ever fail of enjoying him. 'Tis the Antipast of our Happiness here, and the full Consummation of it hereafter. Thrice happy Soul that canst look through the Veil, and notwithstanding that thick Cloud of Creatures that obscures thy View, discern him that is invisible, live in the Light of his Countenance all the Time of thy sojourning here, and at last pure and defecate, with a Kiss of thy Beloved, breath out thy self into his sacred Bo∣som!

And now Sir I have done; for what have I further to add, since I cannot sufficiently express how much I think my self obliged to you? As for all your other Page  276 Favours, so particularly that you give me Occasion to declare my self

Worthy Sir,

Your most unfeigned Friend, As well as humble Servant.

Iune 21. 1694.