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On the true idea of interior annihilation or nothingness.

WHEN we use the phrase "interior annihilation," we of course use it in a mitigated or qualified sense, as meaning not an entire extinction of any principles within us, but only an extinction of certain irregularities of their action. In other words, it is not an absolute annihilation; but only the annihilation of any thing and every thing which is wrong; the annihilation of what the Scriptures call the "old man," in distinction from the "new man, created anew in Christ Jesus." Perhaps we should not refer to this form of expression at all, nor make any remarks upon it, although it is sometimes a convenient one in the description of internal experience, were it not that it is often employed, or some phrase of equivalent import, in writers, particularly those of an ancient date, on the interior religious life. I believe, also, it is quite common among many Christians at the present time, to speak in rather a loose way of their Nothingness, of the importance of feeling that they are Nothing, and the like; which shows that this form of expression indicates the existence of some great practical truth, although it may be but indistinctly developed, which is clear to the religious mind. We shall give our ideas on this subject, as plainly and concisely as we can.

FIRST.— The state of inward annihilation is characterized, in the first place, by the extinction of all unregulated or unsanctified love of created things, or "love of the creatures," as it is sometimes expressed. Accordingly, we cannot say that a person is interiorly lost or annihilated, who is in any degree the slave of his appetites. The action of the appetites, when directed to their original objects, and when subjected to the regulation of a purified conscience, is undoubtedly consistent with this state: that is to say, when they are exercised, not from a view to the mere pleasure which they afford, but in accordance with their primitive constitution, and consequently in accordance with the will of God. But he, who takes delight in the pleasures of the senses, and indulges the lower appetites of our nature, that the attendant pleasures, rather than the original objects of the senses may be realized, has not so crucified and slain himself, that he can be said to be inwardly annihilated. There is still within himself the germination and the growth of that form of selfish gratification, which may properly be called a "love of the creatures."

A similar statement may be made in regard to those principles, which are understood to be higher in rank than the Appetites; and which, in order to distinguish them from the lower or appetitive part of our nature, may properly be denominated the Propensities and the Affections; such as the social propensity, the desire of knowledge, the desire of esteem, the filial affection, the parental affection, friendship, and the love of country. If these propensive principles and affections, whatever comparative rank they may sustain, are not perfectly subordinated to the principle of supreme love to God, if they exist in such a degree as to be in conflict with what the law of God requires, then it is very clear that the state of mind does not exist, which, in the language of religious experience, is denominated "interior annihilation." There is still a vigorous portion of the life of the "old man," which has not been slain. And hence it is, that we lay down the extinction of the love of created things or "love of the creatures," with the explanation and illustration of the meaning of the terms just given, as one of the characteristics of the state of mind under consideration. Of a person, who is thus interiorly annihilated, it can be truly said, "he is crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to him."

SECOND.— Another mark or characteristic of that state of mind, which is described as interior annihilation, is
the extinction of self-will. He, who is annihilated and lost to himself, has no will of his own. We ought to remark here, that, when we speak of the extinction of inordinate creature love and of self will, we do not mean to imply, that the mind is rendered naturally or physically incapable of such irregular exercises, But merely that the work of grace on the heart has been so deep, that there is, at the present time, a practical extinction of all such wrong internal acts. We are no longer troubled with them. Acting from supreme love to God has become the confirmed principle and habit of the mind; so that sensual pleasure, and worldly applause, and private ends of whatever kind, have lost their power. We have no pleasure of our own; we have no desires of our own; we have no will of our own. Under all circumstances, rejecting all wisdom and all plans originating in ourselves, our inquiry is, "What wilt thou have me to do?" "God within us," the divine image, living operatively in the soul, is the all-powerful and absorbing principle.

THIRD.— The state of interior nothingness is characterized, further, by the extinction of the power of antecedent evil habits. A person may be sanctified to God, his heart may be pure in the divine sight, and still there may be a constant struggle on the part of the "old man" or the "old nature," to regain possession. It is difficult to explain this, viz. that a truly holy heart may still have a struggle antagonistical to sin, and oftentimes a fearful struggle; but it is probably owing, in addition to the direct temptations of Satan, to the tremendous power of antecedent evil habits. The principle of self-love for instance, may by divine grace be redeemed from its selfish attitude, and may be brought to its true subjective position and become a holy principle; and yet in consequence of its previous habits of inordinate exercise, there may be a strong tendency, which requires constant resistance, to resume its former position of irregularity and sin. This tendency is not, properly speaking, in the principle itself; but is forced upon it
exteriorly, if we may so express it, by the law of habit; and therefore although it is extremely dangerous, it does not appear to be necessarily sinful. The idea may here perhaps be illustrated in the case of the reformed inebriate. He has refrained from drinking; but the influence of the antecedent law of habit is still felt in his system. He is no longer guilty of the sin of drinking; but his liability to fall into this sin is greatly increased by his antecedent evil habit. There is, undoubtedly, something mysterious in this: but it seems, nevertheless, to be true. He feels that, in consequence of his former evil habits, the enemy is near at hand and in great power; that his danger is thereby increased, and that he must always be in the attitude of watchfulness and of resistance. Something like this is the case with those, who have just entered into that state where they can say, they "love the Lord with all their heart." The enemy is cast out; but he avails himself of the influence of the law of habit, to take a hostile attitude and to seek a re-entrance.

Now when a person has experienced the state of interior nothingness, as it is conveniently, perhaps, and yet not accurately termed, he has by divine grace, not only succeeded in conquering sin in the gigantic forms of creature-love and of self-will, but in breaking down the perplexing influence and the unfavorable tendency of former habits. And hence there is a vast accession to his power, and to his tendency to union with God, Satan himself, in the presentation of his temptations, has comparatively but little influence over such a soul. He has, comparatively speaking, no basis to operate upon, no way of secret, circuitous, and indirect attack; but must come boldly up and make his attack, face to face, as he did in his temptation of the blessed Savior. And this he would rather not do, if he can approach the object of his attack in some other way.

FOURTH.— It is a further characteristic of the mental state, which we are considering, that a person in this state of mind has no disposition to exercise self-reflecting acts, originating either in undue self-love or in a want of faith. What I mean to say is, that, when he has done his duty, he no longer turns back upon himself and asks, as the half-way Christian often does, What does the world think of me? Divested of all selfish purposes and aims, and having no will of his own, he acts deliberately and supremely for God; and therefore he feels that whatever is done, so far as motives and intentions are concerned, is well done. In that respect no trouble enters his mind. There is no need of retrospection; no need of apologies to cavillers. Indeed, he can scarcely be said to exercise retrospective acts and rejections upon himself in any sense whatever. Such acts seem to be, to some extent, inconsistent with the fact, that his heart is fixed exclusively upon an object
out of himself. What is done stands written in the record of his Divine Master; and there he leaves it. His whole soul is given to the present moment. The present moment is given to God.

FIFTH.— Another and remarkable characteristic of this state of mind is this. He, who is the subject of it, is dead and crucified to all internal joys also, as well as to all pleasures and joys of an external kind. He has no sympathy with those, who are always crying, "Make me happy." "Pay me well, and I will be holy." Personal happiness, as a supreme or even a separate object of desire, never enters his thought. It makes no difference what the form of that happiness is, whether pleasures of the senses or pleasures of the mind. He is willing to abandon and sacrifice even the pure and sublime pleasure, almost the only consolation left to him in this sad world, which flows from communion with those, who, like himself, are sanctified to God. His true happiness consists in hanging upon the Cross, and in being crucified to self. Whether he is tempted or not tempted, interiorly and in the bottom of his heart he can say, all is well. Whether he suffers or does not suffer, the throne of peace is erected in the centre of his soul. Wretchedness and joy are alike. He welcomes sorrow, even the deepest sorrow of the heart, with as warm a gush of gratitude as he welcomes happiness, IF THE WILL OF GOD IS ACCOMPLISHED. In that will his soul is lost, as in a bottomless ocean. "Lord, I will not follow Thee," says a devout person, "by the way of consolations and self-pleasures, but only by LOVE. I desire Thee only, and nothing out of Thee for myself. If I ever mention any thing as appertaining to me, if I name myself, I mean Thee only; for Thou only art me and mine. My whole essence is in Thee. I desire nothing, which comes from Thee, but
Thee thyself. I had rather suffer forever the cruel torments of Hell, than enjoy eternal happiness without Thee. If I knew I should be annihilated, yet would I serve Thee with the same zeal; for it is not for my sake, but thine, that I serve Thee. Oh, how great is my joy, that Thou art sovereignly good and perfect." [Cardinal Bona, as quoted in Fenelon's Pastoral Letter on the Love of God. See also, for similar sentiments, Bona's Principes de la Vie Chretienne, Ch. 47.]

In connection with what has been said, it will not be surprising when we say further, that the person, to whom these statements will apply, makes but little account of raptures, visions, ecstasies, special illuminations, sudden and remarkable impressions, or any thing of the kind, except so far as they tend, which, alas, is frequently not the case, to extinguish self, and to lead the soul into the abyss of the Supreme Divinity.

FINALLY.— The soul, that has reached the centre of its Nothing, (that is, is absolutely and forever nothing relatively to
self,) remains without resistance in the hands of God, like clay in the hands of the potter. It has become perfectly pliable and impressible to the divine touch. Such a soul is peculiarly the subject of that ennobling form of prayer, which is called in certain writers the Receptive or Passive Prayer; that is to say, a prayer which is inspired rather than self-originated, which is given, rather than self-produced. Entirely divested of those habits of self-activity, which are so common, and which, in consequence of preceding or of perplexing the operations of the Holy Spirit, are so injurious, the soul remains quiet and childlike in the divine presence. Like the placid lake, that receives and reflects to the eye of the beholder the image of trees and flowers on its banks, returning image for image, without a stem disarranged, or a petal broken; so in all the hidden aspirations which it constantly sends forth, it passively and almost unconsciously receives and reflects the image of God; an image, which is not distorted by the mixture of self-originated acts, nor marred by the disturbing power of internal agitation. God loves to leave the impress of his blessed image on the self-annihilated soul. And the prayer which it breathes, as it is not self-moved, but moves as it is moved upon, may truly be regarded as the praying breath of the Holy Spirit, who always dwells in the soul that knows itself no more.

We may see, therefore, how strong must be the position of the Divine Mind, (the DEUS AGENS INTER, as it has been expressed in the Latin,) in the self-annihilated soul. A soul, in the language of
Michael de Molinos, "desiring as if it did not desire; willing as if it did not will; understanding as if it did not understand; thinking as if it did not think, without inclining to any thing; [that is, independently of the will of God;] embracing equally contempts and honors, benefits and corrections. Oh, what a happy soul is this, which is thus dead and annihilated. It lives no longer in itself, because God lives in it. And now it may most truly be said of it, that it is a renewed Phœnix, because it is changed, spiritualized, and. transformed into the divine image."

And again, he says, "We seek ourselves every time we get out of our Nothing; and, therefore, we never get to quiet and perfect contemplation. Creep in, as far as ever thou canst, into the truth of thy Nothing; and then nothing will disquiet thee; nay, thou wilt be humble and ashamed, losing openly thy own reputation and esteem.

"Oh, what a strong bulwark wilt thou find of that Nothing! Who can ever afflict thee, if thou dost once retire into that fortress! Because the soul, which is despised by itself, and in its own knowledge is nothing, is not capable of receiving grievance or injury from any body. The soul, which keeps within its Nothingness, is internally silent, lives resigned in any torment whatsoever, by thinking it less than it doth deserve; is free from abundance of imperfections, and becomes commander of great virtues. While the soul keeps still and quiet in its Nothingness, THE LORD DRAWS HIS OWN IMAGE AND LIKENESS IN IT, WITHOUT ANY THING TO HINDER IT." [See the Abstract of the Spiritual Guide of Molinos, Chs. 19, 20.]