Stanza xxv

In Thy footsteps
The young ones run Thy way;
At the touch of the fire
And by the spiced wine,
The divine balsam flows.

HERE the bride gives thanks to her Beloved for three graces which
devout souls receive from Him, by which they encourage and excite
themselves to loveGod more and more. She speaks of them here
because she has had experience of them herself in this state of
union. The first is sweetness, which He gives them, and which is
so efficacious that it makes them run swiftly on the road of
perfection. The second is a visit of love, by which they are
suddenly set on fire with love. The third is overflowing charity
infused into them, with which He so inebriates them that they are
as much excited by it as by the visit of love, to utter the
praises of God, and to love Him with all sweetness.

‘In Thy footsteps.’

2. These are the marks on the ground by which we trace the course
of one we seek. The sweetness and knowledge of Himself which God
communicates to the soul that seeks Him are the footsteps by which
it traces and recognises Him. Thus the soul says to the Word, the
Bridegroom, ‘In Thy footsteps’–’in the traces of Thy sweetness
which Thou diffusest, and the odours which Thou scatterest.’

‘The young ones run Thy way.’

3. ‘Devout souls run with youthful vigour in the sweetness which
Thy footsteps communicate.’ They run in many ways and in various
directions–each according to the spirit which God bestows and the
vocation He has given–in the diversified forms of spiritual
service on the road of everlasting life, which is evangelical
perfection, where they meet the Beloved in the union of love, in
spiritual detachment from all things.

4. This sweetness and impression of Himself which God leaves in
the soul render it light and active in running after Him; for the
soul then does little or nothing in its own strength towards
running along this road, being rather attracted by the divine
footsteps, so that it not only advances, but even runs, as I said
before, in many ways. The bride in the Canticle, therefore, prays
for the divine attraction, saying, ‘Draw me, we will run after
Thee to the odour of Thy ointments’; [206] and David saith, ‘I
have run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou didst dilate my
heart.’ [207]

‘At the touch of the fire, and by the spiced wine,
the divine balsam flows.’

5. I said, while explaining the previous lines, that souls run in
His footsteps in the way of exterior works. But the three lines I
have just quoted refer to the interior acts of the will, when
souls are under the influence of the other two graces, and
interior visits of the Beloved. These are the touch of fire, and
spiced wine; and the interior act of the will, which is the result
of these visits, is the flowing of the divine balsam. The contact
of the fire is that most delicate touch of the Beloved which the
soul feels at times even when least expecting it, and which sets
the heart on fire with love, as if a spark of fire had fallen upon
it and made it burn. Then the will, in an instant, like one roused
from sleep, burns with the fire of love, longs for God, praises
Him and gives Him thanks, worships and honours Him, and prays to
Him in the sweetness of love.

6. This is the flowing of the divine balsam, which obeys the touch
of the fire that issues forth from the consuming love of God which
that fire kindled; the divine balsam which comforts the soul and
heals it with its odour and its substance.

7. The bride in the Canticle speaks of this divine touch, saying,
‘My Beloved put His hand through the opening, and my belly
trembled at His touch.’ [208] The touch of the Beloved is the
touch of love, and His hand is the grace He bestows upon the soul,
and the opening through which He puts His hand is the vocation and
the perfection, at least the degree of perfection of the soul; for
according thereto will His touch be heavier or lighter, in
proportion to its spiritual state. The belly that trembled is the
will, in which the touch is effected, and the trembling is the
stirring up of the desires and affections to love, long for, and
praise God, which is the flowing of the balsam from this touch.

8. ‘The spiced wine’ is that exceeding great grace which God
sometimes bestows upon advanced souls, when the Holy Spirit
inebriates them with the sweet, luscious, and strong wine of love.
Hence it is here called spiced wine, for as such wine is prepared
by fermentation with many and divers aromatic and strengthening
herbs; so this love, the gift of God to the perfect, is in the
soul prepared and seasoned with the virtues already acquired. This
love, seasoned with the precious spices, communicates to the soul
such a strong, abundant inebriation when God visits it that it
pours forth with great effect and force those acts of rapturous
praise, love, and worship which I referred to before, and that
with a marvellous longing to labour and to suffer for Him.

9. This sweet inebriation and grace, however, do not pass quickly
away, like the touch of the fire, for they are of longer
continuance. The fire touches and passes, but the effects abide
often; and sometimes the spiced wine continues for a considerable
time, and its effects also; this is the sweet love of the soul,
and continues occasionally a day or two, sometimes even many days
together, though not always in the same degree of intensity,
because it is not in the power of the soul to control it.
Sometimes the soul, without any effort of its own, is conscious of
a most sweet interior inebriation, and of the divine love burning
within, as David saith, ‘My heart waxed hot within me, and in my
meditation a fire shall burn.’ [209]

10. The outpourings of this inebriation last sometimes as long as
the inebriation itself. At other times there are no outpourings;
and they are more or less intense when they occur, in proportion
to the greater or less intensity of the inebriation itself. But
the outpourings, or effects of the fire, generally last longer
than the fire which caused them; yea, rather the fire leaves them
behind in the soul, and they are more vehement than those which
proceed from the inebriation, for sometimes this divine fire burns
up and consumes the soul in love.

11. As I have mentioned fermented wine, it will be well to touch
briefly upon the difference between it, when it is old, and new
wine; the difference between old wine and new wine is the same,
and will furnish a little instruction for spiritual men. New wine
has not settled on the lees, and is therefore fermenting; we
cannot ascertain its quality or worth before it has settled, and
the fermentation has ceased, for until then there is great risk of
its corruption. The taste of it is rough and sharp, and an
immoderate draught of it intoxicates. Old wine has settled on the
lees, and ferments no more like new wine; the quality of it is
easily ascertained and it is now very safe from corruption, for
all fermentation which might have proved pernicious has entirely
ceased. Well-fermented wine is very rarely spoiled, the taste of
it is pleasant, and its strength is in its own substance, not in
the taste, and the drinking thereof produces health and a sound
constitution.

12. New lovers are compared to new wine; these are beginners in
the service of God, because the fervour of their love manifests
itself outwardly in the senses; because they have not settled on
the lees of sense, frail and imperfect; and because they measure
the strength of love by the sweetness of it, for it is sensible
sweetness that ordinarily gives them their strength for good
works, and it is by this they are influenced; we must, therefore,
place no confidence in this love till the fermentation has
subsided, with the coarse satisfaction of sense.

13. For as these fervours and sensible warmth may incline men to
good and perfect love, and serve as an excellent means thereto,
when the lees of imperfections are cleared; so also is it very
easy at first, when sensible sweetness is fresh, for the wine of
love to fail, and the sweetness of the new to vanish. New lovers
are always anxious, sensibly tormented by their love; it is
necessary for them to put some restraint upon themselves, for if
they are very active in the strength of this wine, their natural
powers will be ruined with these anxieties and fatigues of the new
wine, which is rough and sharp, and not made sweet in the perfect
fermentation, which then takes place when the anxieties of love
are over, as I shall show immediately.

14. The Wise Man employs the same illustration; saying, ‘A new
friend is as new wine; it shall grow old, and thou shalt drink it
with pleasure.’ [210] Old lovers, therefore, who have been tried
and proved in the service of the Bridegroom, are like old wine
settled on the lees; they have no sensible emotions, nor outbursts
of exterior zeal, but they taste the sweetness of the wine of
love, now thoroughly fermented, not sweet to the senses as was
that of the love of beginners, but rather settled within the soul
in the substance and sweetness of the spirit, and in perfect good
works. Such souls as these do not seek after sensible sweetness
and fervours, neither do they wish for them, lest they should
suffer from loathing and weariness; for he who gives the reins to
his desires in matters of sense must of necessity suffer pain and
loathing, both in mind and body.

15. Old lovers, therefore, free from that spiritual sweetness
which has its roots in the senses, suffer neither in sense nor
spirit from the anxieties of love, and thus scarcely ever prove
faithless to God, because they have risen above that which might
be an occasion of falling, namely, the flesh. These now drink of
the wine of love, which is not only fermented and free from the
lees, but spiced also with the aromatic herbs of perfect virtues,
which will not allow it to corrupt, as may happen to new wine.

16. For this cause an old friend is of great price in the eyes of
God: ‘Forsake not an old friend, for the new will not be like to
him.’ [211] It is through this wine of love, tried and spiced,
that the divine Beloved produces in the soul that divine
inebriation, under the influence of which it sends forth to God
the sweet and delicious outpourings. The meaning of these three
lines, therefore, is as follows: ‘At the touch of the fire, by
which Thou stirrest up the soul, and by the spiced wine with which
Thou dost so lovingly inebriate it, the soul pours forth the acts
and movements of love which are Thy work within it.’

NOTE

SUCH, then, is the state of the blessed soul in the bed of
flowers, where all these blessings, and many more, are granted it.
The seat of that bed is the Son of God, and the hangings of it are
the charity and love of the Bridegroom Himself. The soul now may
say, with the bride, ‘His left hand is under my head,’ [212] and
we may therefore say, in truth, that such a soul is clothed in
God, and bathed in the Divinity, and that, not as it were on the
surface, but in the interior spirit, and filled with the divine
delights in the abundance of the spiritual waters of life; for it
experiences that which David says of those who have drawn near
unto God: ‘They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house,
and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure, for
with Thee is the fountain of life.’ [213]

2. This fulness will be in the very being of the soul, seeing that
its drink is nothing else but the torrent of delights, and that
torrent the Holy Spirit, as it is written: ‘And he showed me a
river of living water, clear as crystal, proceeding from the
throne of God and the Lamb.Õ [214] This water, being the very love
itself of God, flows into the soul, so that it drinks of the
torrent of love, which is the spirit of the Bridegroom infused
into the soul in union. Thence the soul in the overflowing of its
love sings the following stanza: