Chapter Fourteen: ON HUMILITY AND WATCHFULNESS
WHOEVER engages in inner warfare needs at every moment four things: humility, the greatest vigilance, the will to resist, and prayer. It is a matter of dominating, with God’s help, the “Ethiopians of thought,” thrusting them out by the door of the heart, and crushing at once those who dash your little ones against the rocks (Psalm 137:9).
Humility is a prerequisite, for the proud man is once and for all shut out. Vigilance is necessary in order immediately to recognize the enemies and to keep the heart free from vice. The will to resist must be established at the very instant the enemy is recognized. But since without me ye can do nothing (John 15:5), prayer is the basis on which the whole battle depends.
A little example may be of guidance to you. By being vigilant you discover an enemy approaching the door of your heart, for example, the temptation to think an evil thought of a fellow man. Immediately your will to resist is awakened and you thrust out the temptation, but at the very next moment you sustain a setback in the form of a self-satisfied thought: My, but I was alert! Your apparent victory became a horrible defeat.
Humility was missing.
If, on the contrary, you give over the battle to your Lord, the tendency to self-satisfaction falls away and you stand free. Soon you observe, too, that there is no weapon so powerful as the name of the Lord.
The example shows how unremittingly the warfare must be carried on. In a swift stream the evil impulses flow in, and they must be checked as quickly as possible. These are all the fiery darts of the wicked of which the apostle speaks (Ephesians 6:26), and that come flying without cessation.
Without cessation, therefore, must also be our cry to the Lord. Our fight is not a fight against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:22).
The impulse is the beginning, the saints explain. Then intercourse* follows, when we enter further into what the impulse brings with it. The third step is already consent, and the fourth is the committed sin. These four stages can succeed each other instantly, but they can also give way by degrees so that one can manage to separate them. The impulse knocks like a salesman at the door. If one lets him in, he begins his sales talk about his wares, and it is hard to get rid of him even if one observes that the wares are not good. Thus follow consent and finally the purchase, often against one’s own will. One has let himself be led astray by what the evil one has sent.
Of impulses David says: I shall soon destroy all the unholy that are in the land (Psalm 101:11), for there shall no deceitful person dwell in my house (v. 10). And of consent, Moses says, Thou shalt make no covenant with them (Exodus 23:32). The first verse of Psalm I also treats the same thing, say the Fathers: Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly… It is thus of great importance to speak with his enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:5). But when the throng at the gate is large, and when we know that Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14), the holy Fathers advise us to keep the heart pure from all impulses, feelings and fantasies of whatever kind they may be. That is to say, it is not within human power to separate evil impulses from good ones: the Lord alone can do that. So we relinquish the matter with confidence to Him, well knowing that unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman watcheth but in vain (Psalm 127:2).
It depends on you, nevertheless, to take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart (Deuteronomy 15:9), and to see to it that your heart does not become a market place where like and unlike gather in a continual tumult, until you completely lose sight of what is happening. Here thieves and robbers hold their tryst, but never the angel of peace you need. Peace, and with it the Lord of peace, flees from such a place.
Therefore He has told us through His apostle: Purify your hearts (James 4:8) and instructed us Himself Take ye heed, watch and pray (Mark 13:33). For if He comes and finds our hearts impure and us asleep, He says: I know you not (Matthew 25:12). But the hour is always here, if not at this moment, then at the next; and if not at the next, then at this. For like the kingdom of heaven, the hour of judgment is always present in our heart.
Thus, if the watchman does not watch, neither does the Lord watch; but if the Lord does not watch, the watchman watches in vain. Let us, therefore, watch at the door of our heart, while never ceasing to call upon the Lord for help.
Do not direct your gaze towards the enemy. Never get into a controversy with him whom you cannot possibly resist. With his millennia of experience he knows the very trick that can render you helpless at once.
No, stand in the middle of your heart’s field and keep your gaze upward; then the heart is protected from all sides at once: the Lord Himself sends His angels to guard it both from right and left and from the rear at the same time.
This, being interpreted, means that if you are beset by a temptation, you should not consider it a matter for examination or reflection or weighing for or against: by so doing you sully your heart and waste time, and already it is a victory for the enemy. Instead, without the slightest delay, turn to the Lord and say: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. And the sooner you draw your thoughts away from the temptation the sooner help comes.
Never be sure of yourself. Never make a good resolution, and never think: Oh yes, I’ll make out all right.
Never believe in your own power and strength to resist temptation of any kind, great or small. Think, on the contrary: I am sure to fall as soon as it comes upon me. Self-confidence is a dangerous confederate. The less strength you credit yourself with, the more surely you stand. Acknowledge that you are weak, completely unable to resist the slightest beckoning of the devil.
Then to your astonishment you will find that he has no power over you. For if you have made the Lord your refuge you will soon be able to ensure that no evil shall befall you (Psalm 91). The only evil that can befall a Christian is sin. If you are remorseful because later on you fell anyway, and if you are full of self-reproach and resolutions “never to do so again,” it is a sure sign that you are on the wrong road: it is your self-reliance that has been
He who does not rely on himself is thankfully amazed that he did not fall lower; he praises God for sending him help in time, for otherwise he would still have been lying prostrate. Swiftly he rises and begins his prayer with a threefold Praised be God.
A spoiled child lies smarting for a long time when it has fallen. It seeks sympathy and comforting caresses. Do not fuss over yourself, no matter how it hurts. Get up again and resume the battle. He who fights gets wounded. Only angels never fall.
But pray God to forgive you and not again to allow you to be unwary.
Do not follow Adam’s example and place the blame on the woman or the devil or on any other external circumstance. The reason for your fall lay within yourself in the moment when the Master of the house was away from your heart, you let thieves and robbers come in and make havoc there at will. Pray God that this be not repeated.
A monk was once asked: What do you do there in the monastery? He replied: We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up again. For not many minutes of your life go by without your having fallen at least once. Thus pray God to have mercy on us all.
Pray for forgiveness and grace, and for mercy as a criminal sentenced to death prays, and remember that it is only by grace ye are saved (Ephesians 2:5). You can make no claim whatever to freedom and grace.
Think of yourself as in the position of a runaway slave as he lies before his lord, praying to be spared. Such shall your prayer be, if you will follow St. Isaac the Syrian and “cast off your burden of sin within yourself,” in order to find there “the upward path that makes ascent possible.”
*The technical term is in Greek syndyasmos, and in Latin conjunctio.