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we ought always to choose that one which is most favourable. If we cannot find any excuse for the act itself, we may lessen its evil character by imputing some good intention; and if there is nothing to be said on that score, we should take into consideration the violence of temptation, or attribute it to ignorance, sudden assault, or human frailty, so as to take away from the inevitable blame involved. He used to say that people who keep a strict watch over their consciences seldom fall into the snare of rashly judging others; it is a habit which rather belongs to idle people, who take little heed of their own actions, while they are very much addicted to picking to pieces those of their neighbours." (Part ii, Ch. x. 20.)
He thought that a man should be satisfied with his own calling and make the best of himself. “Do not trifle over other things,” he would say, “ do not sow a crop of good intentions in another man's garden, but cultivate your own diligently. Do not wish to be anything save what you are, but strive to be that perfectly. Fix all your thoughts on that, and on bearing every cross, great and small, which it involves. . . . What is the good of building castles in Spain, when you must live in France ?” He believed that if people would act on this principle, they would find great peace. “Be at peace,” he said to one who was yielding to depression, “and let your soul feed upon the sweetness of heavenly love, without which our hearts were lifeless, our life joyless. Give no place to sadness, the great enemy of devotion. What should sadden one who serves the Everlasting Joy ? Nothing save sin ought to vex or grieve us; and even when sorry for sin, holy joy and hope should come to the rescue.” (Part ii, Ch. xii. 19.)
And while thus seeking to be himself, and to fill his own position perfectly, he was ever most respectful towards others. He has been called “ the gentlemanly saint.” He showed a fine and unfailing courtesy and was a truly humble as well as holy man of heart. "I have often,” says his biographer, “observed how he treated every one, even the most insignificant persons who approached him, as though he were himself the inferior, never repulsing anyone, never refusing to enter into conversation, to speak or listen; never betraying the slightest sign of weariness, impatience or annoyance, however importunate or ill-timed the interruption. His constant thought was : ‘It is God's will ; it is what he requires of me; what more need I ask? While I am doing this I am not required to do anything else. God's will is the centre whence all we do must radiate ; all else is mere weariness and excitement.'” (Part iii, Ch. i. 7)
Francis would have us pay little heed to the world's opinion. He would have us do God's will and not be men-pleasers; and he illustrated his advice by a story. The principal of a college committed the charge of the college clock to an old man, who wanted something to occupy him, but who ere long complained that he had never been given a more troublesome or vexatious task. “What, winding up the weights twice a day?” exclaimed the principal in amazement. “Oh, no, it is not that; it is that I am so worried on all sides. If the clock is a few moments slow, the students from within are down upon me, and then if, to please them, I put it on a few minutes, the students outside grumble, and say our time is fast. Perhaps I put it back to silence their complaints, and the others begin again, till my poor head might as well be the clapper of the bell, I am so bothered with the whole thing.” The principal comforted him by telling him to give kind words to all, but meanwhile to let the clock be, and not try to adapt its time to one or other. “So," said Francis, “ if you trouble yourself as to what is said of you, you will have no end of worry. You must be courteous to everybody ; but meanwhile go your own way, be reasonable, do not try to follow all the contradictory advice you are certain to receive ; fix your mind on God, and follow the leadings of his grace. We ought to care but little for men's judgment since our object is not to please them ; God is our judge, and he sees into the most hidden corners of our hearts." (Part iii, Ch. iii. 6.)
A favourite maxim of Francis was “Make haste slowly.” He always aimed at doing a little well. He sought to gain ground step by step. “Real progress," he said, “is in moving on imperceptibly. God himself, to whom time is not, yet brings his works to perfection by such gradual and gentle ways as are well-nigh imperceptible.” So we are to be patient with the slow development of our own souls, and of the souls of others, and with the slow progress of any work in which we are interested and active. We must abide God's time. He is at least as interested in the work as we are ourselves.
Such then is the wisdom of Francis de Sales, a wisdom surely that is from above, pure, gentle, peaceable, full of mercy and good fruits, the wisdom of one of the saintliest and most radiant spirits that have ever visited, the earth.
VII JOHN BUNYAN'S PILGRIM'S PROGRESS BUNYAN'S Pilgrim's Progress is one of the three outstanding classics of devotional literature the other two being Augustine's Confessions and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. With Augustine Bunyan has more in common than with à Kempis; though in comparing him with Augustine we are struck at first rather by the contrast than by the resemblance between them. Augustine was trained in all the learning of his time, a scholar by profession, a philosopher and theologian of the highest order ; whereas Bunyan was a man of practically no education : as he himself says, he “never went to school to Aristotle and Plato," and the great problems of speculative philosophy had no existence for him. Yet beneath all this intellectual difference there was a striking similarity of spiritual experience, and it is reflected in their writings. Augustine's Confessions might very well have been called a pilgrim's progress, and Bunyan's book might have been called his confessions for through the allegory he sought like Augustine to show how he had erred and sinned and how God in His mercy had saved him. The resemblance is even more striking between Augustine's Confessions and Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, since, like the Confessions, Grace Abounding is a personal narrative in which Bunyan tells the story of his life and of his sin and of the manner of his salvation.
Among all who have written of the things of the spirit, we can hardly find a greater contrast than exists between Bunyan and à Kempis in their way of life and in the character of their work. The recluse of Mount St. Agnes wrote for recluses like himself, for those who had renounced the world; the Puritan preacher of Bedford wrote for people engaged in the ordinary occupations and beset by the ordinary temptations and trials of life. In Bunyan's writings one does not meet with the things that constitute the special charm of the Imitation, nor does one find in the Imitation the qualities that make the Pilgrim's Progress a joy for ever. The Imitation belongs to the wisdom literature of Christendom; the Pilgrim's Progress is in form a work of romance, the first of English novels. Still, the contrast between à Kempis and Bunyan is more apparent than real, more outward than inward. After all they drew their inspiration mainly from the same source. The Bible was the constant companion of both, and its influence is discernible in all they wrote. Nor is their general outlook so different as one would at first suppose. They both take a pessimistic view of the present world, regarding it as a place of weary pilgrimage on the way to a better country, to a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. “If,” wrote à Kempis, “ thou wilt persevere in grace as thou oughtest, and grow therein, esteem thyself as a banished man, and a pilgrim on earth. Thou must be contented for Christ's sake to be esteemed as a fool in this world, if thou desire to lead a religious life.”i Bunyan might have taken that saying as the motto for his Pilgrim's Progress.