ON CONTEMPLATING GOD
William of Saint Thierry
Translated from the Latin by
Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker
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that god has first loves us; through his son, he incites us to return to his love
1. And therefore, Lord, I pray that my soul may leave behind all sin and former ungodliness, so that I shall be able to love Thee with all my heart and soul and strength. Let me be quite free from jealousy and double dealing, so that while I love Thee, Lord, I may not love anything for any reason but that of my love for Thee. When I love a thing because of Thee, it is not the thing which I love, but Thyself, because Thou art the reason why I love it. How can I help loving Thee who art the one great Lord, and King of kings? Thy ruling over us is the same as Thy saving us; when we serve Thee, Thou bringest us to salvation. And how does Thou bless and save Thy creatures? Thou givest them gifts which make them love Thee, and thou dost shower on them that most perfect blessing of being loved by Thee. It is for this reason and Thou didst call Thy Son Jesus, which means Saviour—"for He shall save His people form their sins," as the angel promised Joseph. (Mt 1.21.) As the psalmist says, Jesus is the man of Thy right hand, the son of man whom Thou didst strengthen for Thyself. (Ps 80.17.) No one else can give us salvation, just as no one else can teach us to love Him, for His great lesson is love was to love us first, even to the point of dying on the cross for us. He washed us in His blood, in His love. And then when He rose from the dead He raised us up from the depths of sin so that we might love Him Who first loved us, and loved us until the end. Men would say it was a fair bargain if Thou hadst asked us to love Thee because Thou lovest us. But Thou dost look at it quite differently, Lord, and there are few others who can say, and Thou didst, "I love thee so that thou mayest love Me." But that is in fact what Thou hast done. For, as Thy beloved disciple says Thou hast give us Thy love first, (1 Jn 4.19) and this Thou hast done so that we might give Thee our love in return. This is not because Thou needest to be loved by us at all, but simply because loving Thee is the only way for us to be what Thou didst intend us to be. "In old days, God spoke to our fathers in many ways and by many means, through the prophets; now at last in these times He has spoken to us, with a Son to speak for Him." (Heb 1.1-2.) And this Son was the Word of God that made the heavens; the breath of His lips that peoples them. (Ps 33.6.) And when Thou didst speak through Thy Son it was only to show that all men could come to Thee and have Thee quiet easily, just as if Thy Son had built Thee a dwelling place here as an abiding witness of Thy love; just as the sun in the sky is there to witness to Thy presence in heaven.
2. How deeply Thou didst love us! And how completely! Thou didst not even spare Thine own Son, but gave Him up for us all. All He loved us too, and gave Himself up quite willingly for us. Yes, this is the Son Who speaks to us now, Thy Word omnipotent. There is a hush of silence all around, (Wis 18.14-15) there is a deep gloom of sin and error, and suddenly He leaps down from His heavenly throne. He comes as a mighty warrior against sin and error, but He comes, too, to preach and teach love, with sweetness and kindness. Whatever Thy Son said or did on earth—even the disgrace and torture which were meted out to Him at the end—there were Thy words to us, spoken through Him, to draw us into the embrace of Thy love, and to incite us to give Thee all our love. Thou seekest to draw us to Thee because Thou knowest that love cannot be forced into men's souls; Thou knowest that it must be kindled from within. If there is force involved, there is no place for liberTy, and if liberty is absent, so also is righteousness. Thou didst wish to save us, Lord, yet, since Thou art wholly just, Thou canst only save or damn a man according to his deserts, and not as Thou wouldst like to do. Thou givest us redress and maintainest our cause; Thou art there on Thy throne, seeing justice done, the justice which is of your making. It is determined that no one shall have anything to say for himself, that the whole world shall own itself liable to God's judgments. Thou showest favour and pardon where Thou wilt. (Exod 33.19; Rom 9.15.) It is Thy wish that we should love, because we can only be saved if we do love. Yet we could not love Thee at all if even that were not another of Thy marvellous gifts. And so that we might be saved by loving Thee, Lord, Thou gavest us Thy love first, without which no one can begin to love Thee in return.
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