The Fearful Estate of
[The following account of an Italian lawyer, Francis Spira, was first published in England by a witness to the events, Mattheus Gribauldus, and appeared in 1550. The following work has been edited and revised from a copy of the original in 1637, by Nathaniel Bacon]
In the year 1548 when the glorious sun of the Gospel was but newly risen in Europe, in the days of the glorious reign of Edward 6 of England, in the territory, and under the jurisdiction of the city of Venice, being the very border of Italy in the town of Cittadella, lived one Francis Spira, a civil lawyer. He was an advocate of great rank and esteem, being of known learning and eloquence, of great experience, of carriage circumspect, his speech grave and composed, his countenance sharp and austere, every way befitting the authority whereunto he was advanced. He was endowed with the outward blessings of a wife and eleven children, and wealth in abundance. What his worst parts were, I have no other warrant, than his own words, which (if not tainted overmuch with the bitterness of a desperate pronouncement, and bearing the countenance rather of passion, than of sober confession) may seem to add a stop to all further commendations.
"I was," (said he) "excessively covetous of money, and accordingly applied myself to get on in the world by injustice. I corrupted justice by deceit, inventing tricks to delude justice. Good causes I either defended dishonestly, or sold them to the adversary perfidiously. Ill causes I maintained with all my might. I willingly opposed the known truth. The trust committed unto me, I either betrayed or perverted."
Thus having worn out forty-four years, or thereabouts, and the news of the new, or rather newly revived, opinions of Luther coming into those parts, represented an object of novelty unto him, who, being as desirous to know, as he was famous for knowledge, allowed not these wandering opinions to pass unexamined, but searching into the Scripture, and into all books of controversy that he could get, both old and new, and finding in them far more than notoriety or opinion — he began to taste their nature so well, that he began to entertain, love, and own them at length to be true, and with such zeal, that he became a professor, yes a teacher of them, first to his wife, children, and family, and after to his friends, and familiar acquaintances. In comparison, he seemed to neglect all other affairs, intending ever to press this main point — that we must wholly, and only, depend on the free and unchangeable love of God in the death of Christ, as the only sure way to Salvation: and this was the sum of all his discourse, and this continued for the space of six years, or thereabouts.
It was remarkable that this fire could keep itself within private walls so long, but at length it broke forth into public meetings, so as the whole Province of Padua dawned by the luster thereof. The clergy finding the trade of their pardons to decay and their Purgatory to wax cold, began to bestir themselves. They glossed their actions first with calumnious aspersions upon the whole profession of Luther, and then more plainly striking at Spira with grievous accusations. To effect their purpose, they promised work for some, favors to others, and other kindnesses, so that all the clergy joined together, by their crafty subtleties, to separate, by any means they could devise, Spira's soul from his body, or both from God.
Now as John Casa the pope's Legate resident at Venice, being by birth a Florentine — and one that was thoroughly against Protestants, and known for his craftiness to effect his malicious purposes against them — to him these priests repaired with outcries against Spira, saying that he was condemning the received rites of the Church, and that he denounced the ecclesiastical power, and scandalized the Church's teaching thereof. Furthermore he was one of no mean rank, being hereunto, learned in the Scriptures, elegant in speech, and, in one word, a dangerous Lutheran, having also many disciples, and therefore not to be ignored.
At this the Legate began to cast his eye on the terrible alteration that lately had happened in Germany, where, by the means of one monk, Martin Luther, the Romish religion had suffered such a blow, as that it could neither be cured by dissimulation, nor defended by power, but that the clergy must either mend their manners, or lose their dignities. On the other side, when he saw how predisposed the common people, inhabiting the bordering countries of Italy, were, to entertain those new opinions, he then thought it was no time to dispute with him, or persuade him otherwise, but with great speed he repaired to the Senate, and procured legal authority from them to send for Francis Spira.
Spira by this time had considered with himself of the changed nature of his life, how evident and notorious it was, and therefore subject to be envied by such as neither liked his person, nor his religion. He perceived that his opinions now were neither doubtful nor merely speculative, but such as aimed at the complete overthrow of the Romish faction, and that such a change of policy, wherein at the best he could expect but a bloody victory, and that his enemies lacked neither power nor occasion to call him to account in public for it.
He must now either apostatize, and shamefully give up his former life, yes his own conscience, to lie, or endure the utmost malice of his deadly enemies as was growing every day — or forsake his wife, children, friends, goods, authority, yes his dear country, and betake himself to a foreign people, there to endure a thousand miseries which continually wait upon a voluntary exile. Being thus distracted, and tossed in the restless waves of doubt, without a guide to trust to, or haven to fly to for support, suddenly he felt a calm, and began to discourse with himself in this manner: "Why wander u thus in uncertainties, unhappy man! Cast away your fears! Put on your shield, your shield of faith! Fool! Where is your usual courage, your goodness, your constancy? Remember that Christ's glory lies at the stake, therefore suffer without fear, and He will defend you. He will tell you what you shall answer before kings! He can beat down all danger, bring you out of prison, and raise you from the dead. Consider Peter in the dungeon, the martyrs in the fire. If you make a good confession, you may indeed go to prison, or be put to death — but an eternal reward in Heaven remains for you. What have you in this world comparable to eternal life, to everlasting happiness? If you reckon otherwise, think of the scandal; fear the loss of peace and joy; fear Hell, death, and eternal wrath; or, if your flesh be not so strong as to cause you to doubt of the issue, flee your country, get away, though ever so far — rather than to deny the Lord of Life. With these rousing words he was comforted.
Now was Spira in reasonable quiet, being resolved to yield to these weighty reasons. But, as he later said, it was, in fact, a mere head knowledge, for he had not his heart in it, because he then followed those comforting words by holding it to be wise for him to examine all things again, as a lawyer should, lest he err. He then consulted also with his flesh and blood. Thus the battle did renew itself, and the flesh began to sow tares in his mind in this manner: "Be well advised, foolish man, to consider reason on both sides, and then judge. How can you thus boast of your own sufficiency, as you neither regard the example of the Progenitor who sacrificed His life for others, a thing no other can do without vain presumption. Nor regard the judgment of the whole Church in which you were baptized a member. Do you not consider what misery your rashness will bring unto you? You shall lose your substance, gotten with so much care and travel. Stop and think! You shall undergo the most exquisite torments that malice itself can devise; you shall be counted as a heretic by all; and to close up all, you shall die shamefully. What do you think of the loathsome stinking dungeon, the bloody axe, the burning fagot — are they delightful? Be wise at length, and keep your life and honor. You may live to do much good to men as God commands you, and you may be an ornament to your country, and then is your country's loss to be of such small esteem with you? Will you bring your friends also into danger? You have begotten loving children — will you now cut their throats and inhumanely butcher them, who may in time bring honor to their country, glory to God, help and furtherance to his Church? Weak and foolish man — go on your knees and freely confess your fault, and dismiss all these miseries from your life and the life of loved ones."
Thus did the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the good seed that was formerly sown in his heart. Therefore worshiping the things of this world, and fearing all that may be lost — he faints, and yields unto the allurement of this present world and being thus blinded he goes to the Legate at Venice, and greets him with this news: "Having for these divers years entertained an opinion concerning some articles of faith, contrary to the orthodox and received judgment of the Church, and uttered many things against the authority of the Church of Rome and the Pope — I humbly acknowledge my fault, and error, and my folly in mis-teaching others. I therefore yield myself in all obedience to the Supreme Pope into the bosom of the Church of Rome, never to depart again from the traditions and decrees of the Pope. I am heartily sorry for what is past, and I humbly beg pardon for so great an offence."
The Legate perceiving Spira to faint, he pursues him to the utmost. He causes a recitation of all his errors to be drawn in writing, together with the confession annexed to it, and commands Spira to subscribe his name there, which accordingly he did. Then the triumphant Legate commanded him to return to his own town, and there to declare this confession of his, and to acknowledge the whole doctrine of the Church of Rome to be holy and true, and to abjure the opinions of Luther, and other such heretics, as false, and damnable.
Man knows the beginnings of sin, but who bounds the issues thereof? Spira having once lost his footing, goes and drowns entirely. He cannot resist, nor dare he contradict the Legate, but promises to accomplish his whole will and pleasure.
He soon addresses himself for his return journey, and being on the way home, bethinks himself of large spoils he had brought away from the conflict with the Legate. Not what glorious testimony he had given of his great faith, and constancy in Christ's cause! But, to be plain, how impiously he had denied Christ and His Gospel at Venice — as well as what he promised to do further in his own country.
Thus partly with fear, and partly with shame, being confounded, he thought he heard a voice speaking unto him in this matter. "Spira, what are you doing here? Where are you going? Have you, unhappy man, given your handwriting to the Legate at Venice? Yet see you do not seal it in your own country. Do you indeed think eternal life so mean — as you prefer this present life before it? Do you well in preferring wife and children before Christ? Is the windy applause of the people, better indeed then the glory of God? Are the possessions of this worlds' goods more dear to you, than the salvation of your own soul? Is the blasphemous lie in a moment of time — more desirable than eternal wrath is dreadful? Think with yourself what Christ endured for your sake. Is it not just that you should suffer somewhat for Him? Remember man, that the sufferings of this present life are not to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed. If you suffer for His sake, you shall also reign with Him. You can not answer for what you have already done, nevertheless, the gate of mercy is not quite shut, take heed that you heap not sin upon sin, lest you repent when it will be too late."
Now was Spira in a wilderness of doubts, not knowing which way to turn, nor what to do, yet being arrived in his own country, and among his friends, with shame he relates what he had done, and what he had further promised to do, and how the terrors of God on the one side, and the terror of this world on the other side, did continually rack him. Therefore he desired of them to advise in this so doubtful a case. His friends upon small deliberation answered, that it was requisite he should take heed that he did not in any wise betray his wife and children, and all his friends, into danger, seeing that by so small a matter as the reciting of a little schedule, which might be done in less space than half an hour, he might be both free himself from present danger, and preserve many that depended upon him for their lives; adding, moreover, that he could get no credit in relenting from that which he had already in greatest part performed before the Legate at Venice, and that in the perfect accomplishing thereof, little or no discredit could arise, more than what by the former action already he had sustained.
On the other side, if he did not perform his promise made to the Legate, he could neither discharge himself of the shame which he had already incurred, nor avoid far more heavy and insupportable injuries than probably he should have endured, if he had persisted obstinately in his former opinions that he believed were true.
This was the last blow of the battle, and Spira was utterly overcome. He went to the Praetor, and offered to perform his aforesaid promise made to the Legate, who in the meantime had taken order to have all things ready, and had sent the instrument of abjuration, signed by Spira, to the Praetor, by the hands of a certain priest.
All that night the miserable man wore out with restless cares, without any minute of rest. The next morning being come, he got up, and being ready, he desperately entered into the public congregation, where mass being finished, in the presence of friends and enemies, and of the whole assembly — being by estimation here two thousand people, yes, and of Heaven itself — he recites that infamous abjuration word for word, as it was written. It being done, he was fined thirty pieces of gold, which he presently paid — five whereof were given to the priest that brought the abjuration; the other twenty five were employed towards the making of a shrine to put the Eucharist in. Then he was sent home and restored to his dignities — his goods, his wife and children.
No sooner was he departed, but he thought he heard a direful voice saying to him, "You wicked wretch, you have denied the Lord for "Thirty pieces of silver!" You have renounced the covenant of your obedience, and you have broken your vow by denying the truth of God. Hence Apostate, bear with the sentence of your eternal damnation."
He, trembling and quaking in body and mind, fell down in a swoon. His release was soon at hand for his fallen body, but from that time forward he never found any peace or ease of mind, but continuing in incessant torments, he professed that he was captive under the revenging hand of the great God. He heard continually that fearful sentence of his abjuration before men. He knew he was utterly undone, and that he could neither hope for grace, nor Christ's intercession with God His Father on his behalf. Thus was his worldliness and abjuration of the Gospel truth ever heavy on his heart, and ever his condemnation before his eyes.
Now some of his friends began to repent too late of their rash counsel; others not looking so high as the judgment of God — laid all the blame upon his melancholic disposition that, by overshadowing his judgment, wrought in him a kind of madness. Every one censured as his fancy led him, yet for a remedy all agreed in this, to use both the wholesome help of physicians, and pious advice of divines, and therefore thought it fit to convey him to Padua, which had a University of note, where plenty of all manner of means was to be had. This they accordingly did, along with his wife, children, and whole family, others also of his friends accompanying him, and being arrived at the house of one James Ardin in Saint Leonard's Parish, they sent for three physicians of most note, who upon due observation of the effects, and of other symptoms of his disease, and some private conference one with another among themselves, returned their verdict in this manner — namely, that they could not discern that his body was afflicted with any danger or distemper originally from itself by reason of the overruling of any illness — but that this malady of his arose from some grief, or passion of his mind, which being overburdened did so oppress the spirits, as they wanting free passage, stirred up many illnesses whereof man is full. These illnesses then ascending up into the brain, troubled the imagination, overshadowed the seat of the judgment, and so corrupted it.
This was the state of his disease, and that outward part that was visible to the eye of nature, this they endeavored to cure by blood-letting, to divert the course of those illnesses from the brain. But all their skill effected nothing, which Spira noting, said: "Alas poor men, how far wide are you! Do you think that this disease is to be cured by potions? Believe me, there must be another manner of medicine, it is neither potions, plasters, nor drugs, that can help a fainting soul cast down with a sense of sin, and the wrath of God. It is only Christ who must be the true Physician, and the Gospel the sole Antidote.
The physicians easily believed him, after they had understood the whole truth of the matter, and therefore they wished him to seek some spiritual comfort. By this time the fame of this man spread all over Padua, and the neighboring country, partly because of the illness, but primarily the occasion was for many especially remarkable in that a man of such standing was declaring so much remorse for his abjuration before the Church. For this was not done in a corner. So as daily there came multitudes of all sorts to see him. Some out of curiosity only to see and discourse; some out of a pious desire to try all means that might reduce him to comfort again, or at least to benefit themselves, by such a spectacle of misery, and of the justice of God, that they may take warning.
Among these, Paulus Vergerius, Bishop of Justinopolis, and Mattheus Gribauldus, deserve especially to be named, as the most principal laborers for this man's comfort. They found him now about fifty years of age, neither affected with the senility of old age, nor with the inconstant headstrong passion of youth, but in the strength of his experience and judgment. In a burning heat, calling excessively for a drink, yet his understanding most active, quick of apprehension, witty in discourse, above his ordinary manner, and judiciously apposite in all he said — so his friends labored by all fair means to relieve him by some nourishment, which he obstinately opposed. They forcibly infused some liquid sustenance into his mouth, most of which he spit out again, exceedingly chafing, and in this fretting mood of his said; "As it is true that all things work for the best to those that love God; so to the wicked all are contrary; for whereas a plentiful offspring is the blessing of God and his reward, being a stay to the weak estate of their aged parents, to me they are a cause of bitterness and vexation. They do strive to make me tire out this misery. I would gladly be at an end. I deserve not this dealing at their hands. Oh! that I were gone from hence, that somebody would let out this weary soul!"
His friends faulted him, and asked him what he conceived to be the cause of his disease. Forthwith he broke out into a lamentable discourse of the passages formerly related and that with such passionate elocution, that he caused many to weep and most to tremble. They, contrarily to comfort him, propounded many of God's promises recorded in the Scriptures, and many examples of God's mercy. "My sin" (said he) "is now unworthy of the mercy of God".
"Nay" answered they, "the mercy of God is above all sin. God would have all men to be saved". "That is not true" (says he) "He would have all that he has elected to be saved. He would not have damned reprobates to be spared — and I tell you that I am one of that number. I know it, for I willingly, and against my knowledge and belief, denied Christ before men, both in private and in public. My hardened heart will not allow me to hope."
Then in the silence that followed, one asked him whether he did not believe that doctrine to be true for which he was accused before the Legate. Again there was a long silence before he answered: "I did believe it true when I denied it, but now I neither believe that, nor the doctrine of the Roman Church. I believe nothing. I have no faith, no trust, no hope. I am a reprobate like Cain, or Judas, who casting away all hope of mercy, fell into despair, and my friends do me great wrong, that they allow me not to go to the place of unbelievers as I justly deserve. My heart is dead and cold, and it was so from the beginning, though I believed Luther was right — and Rome was wrong."
Here they began sharply to rebuke him, requiring, and charging him, that in any wise he did not violate that mercy of God, which would be a wicked thing indeed. To which he answered "The mercy of God is exceeding large but extends only to the elect, not to me, or any like to me, who are sealed up to wrath, for I tell you I deserve it, my own conscience condemns me; what reprobate needs any other judge?"
"Christ came" (said they) "to take away sin", and calling for a book, they read unto him the passion of Christ. Coming to his nailing to the Cross, Spira said "This is indeed comfortable to such as are elected, but as for me a damnable wretch, they are nothing but grief and torment, because I despised them. That makes me as guilty of nailing Jesus to the Cross as Judas Iscariot."
Thus roaring for grief, and tossing himself up and down upon the bed as he lay, he entreated them to read no more. As Gribauldus was coming to see him, Vergerius said to Spira "Dear sir, here is Doctor Gribauldus, a godly and faithful friend of yours, come to see you."
"He is welcome" (said he) "but he will find me ill."
Gribauldus replied, "Sir, this is but an illusion of the devil, who does what he can to vex you. Turn to God with your whole heart, and he is ready to show you mercy. The earth as you know, is full of His mercy. It is He who has said that as often as a sinner repents of his sin, he will remember his sins no more. Consider this example of Peter that was Christ's familiar, and an Apostle — and yet denied him thrice with an oath. Yet God was merciful unto him. Consider the Thief who spent his whole life in wickedness, and for all that — did not God graciously respect him in the last minute of his life? Is the Lord's hand now so shortened that it cannot save you?"
To this Spira answered, "If Peter grieved and repented, it was because Christ beheld him with a merciful eye and in that he was pardoned. It was not because he wept, but because God was gracious to him; but God respects not me, and therefore I am a reprobate. I feel no comfort can enter my heart. There is no place there but only for torments and vexings of spirit. I tell you my case is properly mine own. No man was ever in the like plight — and therefore my estate is fearful."
Then roaring out in the bitterness of his spirit, he said "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" The violence of his passions did amaze many of the beholders, insomuch as some of them said with a whispering voice, that he was possessed by demons. He, overhearing it, said "Do you doubt it? I have a whole legion of devils that take up their dwellings within me, and possess me as their own, and justly too, for I have denied Christ before men."
"Did you do that willingly or not?" (said they). "That is not to the purpose" (said Spira) "Christ says, whoever denies me before men, him will I deny before my Father who is in Heaven." Christ will not be denied, no not in word; and therefore it is enough, though in heart I never wanted to deny Him, but the fact is I did."
They observing his distemper to arise from the sense and horror of the pains of Hell, asked him whether he thought there were worse pains than what he endured for the present. He said that he knew there were far worse pains than those that he then suffered, "For the wicked shall rise to their judgment, but they shall not stand in judgment; this I tremble to think of; yet do I desire nothing more than that I might come to that place, where I am to be sure to feel the worst, and to be freed from fear of worse to come."
"But you are to consider" (said one) "that those opinions for which you were accused before the Legate were impious; and therefore you are not to think you denied Christ, but rather that you confessed him, acknowledging the infallible truth of the Catholic Church."
"Truly" (said he) "when I denied those opinions, I did think them to be true — and yet I did deny them."
"Go to" (said others) "now then believe that they are not."
"Now I cannot" (said he), "God will not allow me to believe them, nor trust in His mercy. What would you have me do? I would gladly attain to this power, but cannot, though I should presently be burnt for it."
"But why do you" (said the other) "esteem this so grievous a sin, when as the learned Legate constrained you to it, which he surely would not have done, if your former opinions had not been erroneous? No good Francis, the devil besets you, let not therefore the grievousness of your sin, if any such be, amaze you."
"You say right" (replied he) "the devil has possessed me, and God has left me to his power, for I find I can neither believe the Gospel, nor trust in God's mercy. I have sinned against the Holy Spirit, and God by his immutable decree has rightly bound me over to perpetual punishment, without any hope of pardon. It is true that the greatness of sin, or the multitude of them, cannot bind God's mercy. All those many sins that in the former part of my life I have committed, did not so much trouble me, for I trusted that God would not lay them to my charge. But I never repented for them by God's grace as I repented before the Legate. Now, having sinned against the Holy Spirit, God has taken away from me all power of a true repentance, and this brings all sins to my remembrance, and I say — guilty of one, guilty of all. And therefore it is no matter whether my sins be great or small, few or many, they are all such as neither Christ's blood, nor God's mercy belongs to me. God will have mercy, on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will, he hardens." This is it that gnaws my heart. He has hardened me; therefore I cannot but despair. I tell you, there was never such a monster as I am; never was man alive a spectacle of so exceeding misery! I knew that justification is to be expected by Christ. I denied it and abjured it, that to the end I might keep this frail life from adversity, and my children from poverty. Now behold, how bitter this life is to me. God alone knows what shall become of this, my family, but surely no good is likely to betide it, but rather daily things will go from bad to worse, and such a ruin at the length as that one stone shall not be left on another. What I hoped to gain by my abjuration, I have lost forever."
"But why should you" (said Gribauldus) "conceive so deeply of your sin, seeing you cannot but know that many have denied Christ, yet never fell into despair?"
"Well," (said he) "I can see no ground of comfort for such, neither can I warrant them from God's judgment in wrath; though it pleases God yet to allow such to be in peace. Besides, there will be a time of change to come, and then they shall be thoroughly tried; and if it were not so, yet God is just in making me an example to others; and I cannot justly complain. There is no punishment so great — but I have deserved it, for this so heinous offence! I assure you it is no small matter to deny Christ; and yet it is more ordinary than commonly men do conceive of. It is not a denial made before a magistrate as it were with me; for as often as a Christian does dissemble the known truth, as often as he approves of false worship by presenting himself at the idolatrous Mass — so often as he does not things worthy of his calling, or such things as are unworthy of his calling — so often does he deny the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus did I, and therefore am I justly punished for it."
"Your estate" (says Gribauldus) "is not so strange as you make it. Job was so far gone that he complained that God had set a mark against him; and David, that was a man after God's own heart, complained often that God had forsaken him and was become his enemy; yet both received comfort again. Comfort yourself therefore, and God will come at length, though He now seem far off."
"Oh brother!" (answered Spira) "I believe all this. The devils believe and tremble — but David was ever elected and dearly beloved of God; and though he fell, yet God took not utterly away his Holy Spirit; and therefore was heard when he prayed, "Lord take not your Holy Spirit from me." But I am in another case, being ever accursed from the presence of God. Neither can I pray as David did, because his Holy Spirit was never with me, and cannot therefore be recalled, and therefore I know I shall live in continual hardness of heart so long as I live. Oh! that I might feel but the least sense of the love of God to me, though but for one small moment, as I now feel His heavy wrath that burns like the torments of Hell within me, and afflicts my conscience with pangs unutterable! Truly my desperation is Hell itself."
Here Gribauldus said "I do truly believe, Spira, that God having so severely chastised you in this life, corrects you in mercy here — that He may spare you hereafter, and that He has mercies sealed up for you in time to come."
"Nay" (said Spira) "Hence do I know that I am a reprobate — because he afflicts me with hardness of heart. Oh that my body had suffered all my life long — so that he would be pleased to release my soul, and ease my conscience, this burdened conscience!"
Gribauldus being desirous to ease his mind from the continual meditation of his sin, as also to sound how for the present he stood affected to the Romish Church, asked him what he thought became of the souls of men so soon as they departed out of the body, to which he answered: "Although this be not so fully revealed in Scripture, yet I truly believe that the souls of the Elect go presently to the Kingdom of Glory; and not that they sleep with the body as some do imagine."
"Very well" said one of the spectators, "Why do the Scriptures then say, that God brings down to Hell, and raises up? Seeing it cannot be meant of the estate of the soul after death, which as you say either goes to Heaven without change, or to Hell without redemption, it must be understood of the estate of the soul in this life, like that wherein you are at this present; and often times we see that God allows men to fall into the jaws of despair, and yet raises them up again, and therefore despair not, but hope. It shall be even thus with you in His good time."
"This is the work," (says Spira) "this is the labor; for I tell you, when I at Venice did first abjure my profession, and so, as it were, drew an indenture — the Word of God often admonished me; and when at Cittadella, I did, as it were, set to my seal, and the voice of God often suggested to me, "Do not write Spira, do not seal"; yet I resisted both the Word and voice; and at that very present instant of falsehood, I did evidently feel a wound inflicted in my very will, so although I can say, I would believe, yet can I not say, I will believe. Do you not understand? God has denied me the power of will. I have not His grace, nor ever shall — and it befalls me in this my miserable estate, as with one that is fast in irons, and his friends coming to see him, do pity his estate, and do persuade him to shake off his fetters, and to come out of his bonds, which, God knows, he would gladly do, but cannot, this is my very case. You persuade me to believe. How gladly would I do it, but cannot."
Then violently grasping his hands together, and raising himself up: "Behold" (said he) "I am strong, yet little by little I decay and consume, and my servants would gladly preserve this weary life; but at length I die as I deserve. Rejoice you righteous in the Lord! "Blessed are you whose hearts the Lord has mollified."
Then, after a long pause, he called out, "It is astonishing how I earnestly desire to pray to God with all my heart, and all my strength — yet I cannot. I see my damnation, and I know my remedy is only in Christ — yet I cannot set myself to lay hold on it, for such are the punishments of the damned. They confess what I confess, they repent of their loss of Heaven, and they envy the Elect, yet that selfish repentance does them no good, for they cannot mend their ways without grace."
As he was thus speaking, he observed divers flies that came about him, and some lighted on him; "Behold!" (said he) "now also Beelzebub comes to his banquet. You shall shortly see my end and in me an example to many of the justice and judgment of God."
About this time came in two Bishops with divers scholars of the university, one of them, being Paulus Vergerius, having observed Spira more than any other, being continually conversant with him, told him his estate was such, as rather stood in need of prayer than advice; and therefore desired him to pray with him in the Lord's Prayer. Spira consented, and they began: "Our Father which are in Heaven", then breaking forth into tears, Spira stopped; but others said, "It is well, your grief is a good sign."
"I bewail" (said he) "my misery, for I perceive I am forsaken of God, and cannot call to him from my heart, as I believed I used to do."
"Yet let us go on", said Vergerius. "Your Kingdom come"
"Oh Lord." (said Spira) "bring me also into this Kingdom; I beseech you shut me not out."
Then coming to those words; "Give us this day our daily bread" he added, "O Lord, I have enough and abundance to feed this carcass of mine, but there is another bread. I humbly beg above all things the bread of your Grace, without which I know I am but a dead man."
"Lead us not into temptation." "Seeing Lord that I may escape, the enemy has overcome me. Please help me, I beseech you, to overcome this cruel tyrant."
These things he spoke with such a mournful voice, the tears trickling down abundantly, and expressing such affection and passion, as turned the affections of those there present, with grief and compunction. They then turning to Spira said: "You know that none can call Christ Jesus the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit. You must therefore think of yourself according to that affection, which you express in your prayers, inferring thereby that God has not wholly cast you off, or bereaved you His Spirit utterly, for even the Elect have their dark days."
"I perceive" (said Spira) "that I call on Him to my eternal damnation; for I tell you again, it is a new and unheard of example that you find in me."
"If Judas" (said they) "had but outlived his days, which by nature he might have done, he might have repented, and Christ would have received him to mercy; and yet he sinned most grievously against his Master, which did so esteem of him, as to honor him with the dignity of an Apostle, and did feed him."
He answered, "Christ did also feed and honor me, neither yet is my fault one jot less than that of Judas, because it is not more honor to be personally present with Christ in the flesh, than to be in His presence now by illumination of His Holy Spirit. This is all that matters. And besides, I deny that ever Judas could have repented, how long soever he had lived, for grace was quite foreign to him as it is now to me."
"Oh Spira" (said they) "you know you are in a spiritual desertion. You must therefore not believe what Satan suggests. He was ever a liar from the beginning, the father of lies, and a mere impostor, and will cast a thousand lying imaginations into your mind to beguile you withal. You must believe those whom you judge to be in a good estate, and more able to discern of you than yourself. Believe us, and we tell you, that God will be merciful unto you."
"Oh! here is the knot!" (said Spira). "I wish I could believe, but I cannot."
Then he began to reckon up what fearful dreams and visions he was continually troubled withal; that he saw the devils come flocking into his chamber, and about his bed, terrifying him with strange noises; that these were not imaginations, but that he saw them as really as the bystanders; and that besides these outward terrors, he felt continually a racking torture of his mind, and a continual poison of his conscience, being the very proper pangs of the damned in Hell.
"Cast off these imaginations." (said Gribauldus) "These are but illusions, humble yourself in the presence of God, and praise Him."
"The dead praise not the Lord" (answered he). "Nor they that go down into the pit. We who are drowned in despair are dead and are already gone down into the pit. What Hell can there be worse then desperation — or what greater punishment? The gnawing worm, unquenchable fire, horror, confusion, and, which is worse than all, despair itself continually tortures me; and now I count my present estate worse than if my soul, separated from my body, were with Judas and the rest of the damned! Therefore, I now desire rather to be there, than thus to live in the body."
One being present repeated certain words out of the Psalms: "If your children forsake My law and walk not in My judgements; I will visit their transgressions with rods and their iniquities with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness I will not utterly take from them, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." Mark this, O Spira, "my covenant will not break."
"These promises," (said Spira) "belong only to the Elect, which if tempted, may fall into sin, but have again been lifted up and recovered out; as the Prophet says, "Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him." Therefore Peter could rise, for he was Elected, but the reprobate, when they fall lower than they already are, cannot rise again, as appears in Cain, Saul, and Judas. God deals one way with the Elect — and another way with Reprobates."
The next day he prayed with them in the Latin tongue, and that with excellent affection, as outwardly appeared. "Blessed be God" (said Vergerius) "these are no signs of eternal reprobation; you must not, O Spira, seek out the secret counsels of God's election and reprobation, for no man can know so long as he lives, whether by his good or bad deeds, he be worthy of God's love or anger. Do you not know that the prophet David complained that God had cast off his soul."
"I know all this," (says Spira). "I know the mercies of God are infinite, and do surpass the sins of the whole world and that they are effectual to all who believe, but this faith and this hope, is the gift of God. Oh that he would give it me! But it is impossible as to drink up the sea at a single draught. As for that of David, if he had ever tried that which I feel by woeful experience, he would never have spoken as he did. But the truth is, never had mortal man such an evident experience of God's anger and hatred against him — as I have. You who are in a good estate think repentance and faith to be works of great facility, and therefore you think it an easy matter to persuade a man to believe. This is not so, because those who do not see their sickness need not the physician; and he who thinks well of himself, cannot give counsel to such as are sick; but this is the Hell to me, that my heart was hardened from the beginning. I cannot believe though I once thought I did. Remember, Many are called, but few are chosen."
"Upon what grounds," (said they) "do you conceive so ill an opinion of yourself?"
"I once did profess God to be my Father, not only by creation, but, as I thought, by regeneration. I thought I knew Him, by His beloved Son, the author and finisher of our salvation, and that I could pray to Him, and hope for pardon of sins from Him. But it was not of grace, for it did not come from the heart. I had deluded myself. I had a taste of his Word in the Gospel that was sweetness, peace, and comfort to me. Now contrarily, I know God not as a Father, but as an enemy to deceivers like me. What more? My heart hates God, and seeks to get above Him. I have nothing else to turn to, but terror and despair."
"Do you think then," (said they) "that those who have earnest and first fruits of God's Spirit, may notwithstanding fall away?"
"The judgments of God are a deep abyss," (said he). "We are soon drowned if we enter into them. He who thinks he stands, let him take heed lest he fall. As for myself, I know I am fallen back from bad to worse, because once, like the seed sown among thorns, I did once rejoice at hearing the Word. I know not what else to say, but that I am one of that number, which the tares of the world has choked and destroyed."
"Say not so," (answered they) "for God may come, though at the last hour. Keep hold therefore, at the least by hope."
"This," (says he) "is my case. I tell you I cannot, God has deprived me of hope. This brings terror to my mind, and pines this body which is now so weak, as it cannot perform the several offices thereof, for as the Elect have the Spirit testifying that they are the sons of God, and are certain of it beyond anything else, so the Reprobates even while they live, do often feel a worm in their conscience, whereby they are condemned already. They know they are not of true grace, or of God. Therefore as soon as I perceived that this would be inflicted on my mind and will, I knew that I needed the gifts of saving grace, and that I was utterly undone. God chastens his children with temporary afflictions, yes, that they may come as gold out of the fire. But He punishes the wicked with blindness in their understanding and in the hardness of their heart; and woe be to such whose heart has not been softened by his Holy Spirit."
Here one rebuked him, and told him, he gave too much credit to sense, that he was not to believe himself, but rather him that was in a good estate, and "I testify to you," (said he) "that God will be merciful to you."
"Nay," (answered he) "for because I am in this ill estate, therefore can I believe nothing but what is contrary to my salvation and comfort. But you who are so confident of your good estate, first look that it be true, for it is no such small matter to be assured of. A man had need be exceedingly strongly grounded in the truth, before he can affirm such a matter so confidently as you now do. It is not the performance of a few outward duties, but a mighty constant labor, with all intents of heart and affection, with full desire and endeavor, continually to set forth God's glory. There must be neither fear of Legates, Inquisitors, priests, prisons, nor any death whatever. Many think themselves blessed — who are truly not; it is not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord", that shall go to Heaven."
They came another day and found him with his eyes shut, as if he had been drowsy, and very hesitant to discourse, for he was weakening bodily every day, though his mind was most active. At that time there came in also a grave man from Cittadella, who demanded of Spira, if he knew him, or not. He, lifting up his eyelids and not suddenly remembering him, the man said to him; "I am Presbyter Antony Fontanina; I was with you at Venice, for some eight weeks ago."
"Oh cursed day!" (said Spira) "Oh cursed day! Oh that I had never gone thither. Would to God I had then died!"
Afterwards came in a priest called Baunardinus Sardoneus, bringing with him a book of Exorcisms, to conjure this devil away, whom when Spira saw, shaking his head, he said, "I am truly persuaded indeed that God has left me to the power of the devils; but such they are, as are not to be found in your Litany — neither will they be cast out by spells."
The priest proceeding in his intended purpose, with a strange uncouth gesture, and a loud voice, adjured the spirit to come into Spira's tongue, and to answer. Spira deriding his fruitless labor, with a sigh turned from him. A bishop being there present said to Spira, "Brother, God has put virtue into the Word and sacraments, and we have used the one means, and find not that which we desire — shall we try the efficacy of the Sacraments? Surely if you take it as a true Christian ought to receive the body and blood of Christ, it will prove a sovereign medicine for your sick soul."
"This I cannot do," (answered he) "For they that have no right to the promises — have no right to the seals of the promises. The Eucharist was appointed only for believers. If we have not faith, we eat and drink judgment to ourselves. I received it about a month ago, but I did not well in so doing, for I took it by constraint, and so I took it to my deeper condemnation."
Here Vergerius began to importune him earnestly to beware that he did not willfully resist grace, and put himself out of Heaven, charging him vehemently, by all the love that was between them — by the love which he bear to his children, yes to his own soul — that he would set himself seriously to return to that faith and hope, which once he had in the death of Christ, with many such like words.
Spira having heard much of the like matter formerly, and being somewhat moved said, "You do but repeat yourself Vergerius. What should I hope? Why should I believe? God has not given me the faith of the elect — show me then where I shall go — show me an haven whereto I shall retire. You tell me of God's mercy — when God has cast me off! You tell me of Christ's intercession — but I have denied Him. You command me to believe — I say I cannot. You bring me no comfort. Your command is as impossible for me to obey, as to keep the Moral law. If you should persuade one to love God, with all his heart, soul and strength, and God gives him not the power by grace — can he perform what you ask? Does not the Church teach us to sing, "direct us, O Lord, to love your Commandments?" Hypocrites say that they love God with all their heart, but they lie. For my part, I will not lie, but tell you plainly, such is my case that though you should never so much importune me to hope or believe, though I desire it, yet I cannot, for God, as a punishment of my wickedness, has refused me all His saving graces — faith, hope, and charity — and the last is the most damning of all. I am not the man therefore that you take me for. If I could conceive but the least spark of hope of a better estate hereafter, I would not refuse to endure that most heavy weight of the wrath of that Great God; yes for twenty thousand years — just so that I might at length attain to the end of that misery, which I now know will be eternal. But I tell you, my will is wounded. Who longs more to believe then I do? But all the groundwork of my hope is quite gone — for if the testimonies of Holy Scripture are true, as they are most certainly true, "for Scripture cannot be broken," is not this as true — whoever denies me before men, (says Christ) will I deny before my Father who is in Heaven. Is not this properly my case, as if it had purposely been intended against this very wickedness of mine? And I pray you, what shall become of such as Christ denies, seeing there is no other Name under Heaven whereby you look to be saved? What says Paul to the Hebrews? "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit — if they fall away, to be renewed to repentance." What can be more plain against me, who had no gift of repentance? Is not that Scripture also that if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin — but a certain looking for of judgment. The Scripture speaks of me. Paul means me. Peter tells me, it had been better I had I not known the way of Righteousness, than after I have declared to know and believe it, to then turn from the holy commandment and reject it. If it had been better that I had not known — then my condemnation had been most certain. Do you not see evidently, that I have willfully denied the known truth. May I justly expect not only damnation, but worse, if worse may be imagined? God will have me undergo that just punishment of my sin, and make me an example of His wrath for your sakes!"
The company present admired his discourse, so grievously accusing himself for his past life, so gravely and wisely dilating concerning the judgments of God, that they were then convinced, it was not frenzy or madness that had possessed him. For were they not all certain within that he spoke the truth.
Spira proceeded again in this manner, "Take heed to yourselves, it is no light or easy matter to be a Christian. It is not Baptism, or reading of the Holy Scriptures, or boasting of your faith in Christ, though even these are good — that prove you to be a true Christian. You know what I said before, there must be a conformity in life to the Holy Word. A Christian must be strong, unconquerable, not carrying an obscure profession — but resolute, expressing the image of Christ, and holding out against all opposition to the last breath. He must give all diligence by righteousness, and holiness in accordance with the Word of God, to make his calling and election sure. Many there are who snatch at the promises in the Gospel, as if they undoubtedly belonged to them, and yet they remain sluggish, and careless, and being flattered by the things of this present world, they pass their lives in quietness and carnal security, as if they were the only happy men alive, but whom the Lord in his Providence had ordained to eternal wrath. As you may see in Luke's rich man, thus it was with me, therefore take heed."
Then came one of his nephews and offered him some sustenance, which he disdainfully refused, which so moved the young man's peevishness, that he charged him with hypocrisy and dissimulation, or madness.
To whom Spira, gravely answering, said: "You may interpret the matter as you will, but I am sure I am not only the actor, but the argument and matter of the tragedy. I would it were madness, either feigned or true — for if it were feigned, I would put it off at pleasure; if it were a real madness, yet there was some hope left of God's mercy. Whereas now there is none — for I know that God has pronounced me an enemy and guilty of high treason against his Majesty. I am a castaway, a vessel of wrath. Yet dare you call it dissembling and madness, and can mock at the formidable example of the wrath of God that should teach you fear and terror. But it is natural to the flesh, either out of malice or ignorance, to speak perversely of the works of God, for the natural man discerns not of the things that are of God, because they are spiritually discerned."
"How can this be?" (said Gribauldus) "that you can thus excellently discourse of the judgments of God, and of the graces of His Holy Spirit, and that you find a lack of them, and earnestly desire them, and yet you think you are utterly deprived of them?"
"Take this for certain," (said he) "I lack the main grace of all, and that which is absolutely necessary; and God does many times exhort most true and strange testimonies of His justice and mercy — yes out of the mouths of very reprobates, for even Judas, after he had betrayed his Master, was constrained to confess his sin, and to justify the innocence of Christ. Therefore I do the like. It is no new or strange matter. God has not given me faith, but has left me other worldly gifts for my deeper condemnation. By how much the more I remember what I had, when I thought I had that faith — and now hear others discourse of what they have, by so much more is my torment in knowing what I lack, and how there is no way to be relieved of it."
Thus spoke he, the tears all the while trickling down, professing that his pangs were such, as that the damned in Hell endure not the like misery, and that his estate was worse than that of Cain or Judas; and therefore he desired to die.
"Yet behold!" (says he) "the Holy Scriptures are accomplished in me and now I desire to die." And truly he seemed exceedingly to fear, lest his life should be drawn out to a longer thread; and finding no ease, or rest, ever and always cried out: "Oh miserable wretch! Oh miserable wretch!"
Then turning to the company, he besought them in this manner. "Oh brethren, take a diligent heed to your life; make more account of the gift of God's Word than I have done — and learn to beware my misery. Do not think that you are true Christians, because you understand something of the Gospel. Take heed you grow not secure on that ground. Be constant and immovable in the maintaining of your profession. Confess even unto death if you are called thereto. Remember the Word, that he who loves father, mother, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, kindred, houses, lands, more than Christ — is not worthy of Him."
"These words" (said they) "do not sound like the words of a wicked reprobate."
"I do but herein imitate" (said Spira) "the rich glutton in the Gospel, who though in Hell, yet was careful that his brethren should not come to the same place of torment as he had. I say to you Brethren, take heed of this miserable estate wherein I am!"
Then turning himself to certain young men who were present, he desired them to conceive him aright. "I do not speak this to derogate from the certainty of saving faith, and the promises of the Gospel — for they are most sure; but take heed of relying on that Faith which works not a holy and unblamably life, worthy of a believer. Credit me, it will fail, I have tried it! I presumed I had gotten the right faith. I preached it to others. I had all places of Scripture in memory that might support it. I thought myself sure, and in the meantime living impiously and carelessly. Behold now the judgment of God has overtaken me, not to correction, but to condemnation. And now you would have me to believe I am saved, but it will not be; for I feel too late that good things belong only to such as are made good by Divine Grace, whose sins are covered with Christ's death and blood, as with a veil, and guarded with His righteous merits from the flood of God's wrath, even as with a mighty wall, lest miserable mortals should be swallowed up with the greatness of their sinfulness. With my own hands I pulled down this empire behind which I might have rested in safety; and now are the swelling waters come even to my soul, and I am cast away."
One of his familiar friends chanced to say that certainly he was overcome with melancholy, which being overheard, Spira answered: "Well be it so, seeing you will needs have it so. For thus also is God's wrath manifested against me in that he has taken from me the use of my understanding and reason, so as I can neither rightly esteem and judge of my distemper, nor hope of remedy. You see brethren, what a dangerous thing it is to stop or stay things that concern God's glory; especially to dissemble upon any terms. What a fearful thing it is to draw near and be almost a Christian! Never was the like example to this of mine, and therefore if you are wise — you will seriously consider thereof. Oh that God would let loose His hand from me; that it were with me now, as in times past, when I read the Word with joy! I would scorn the threats of the most cruel tyrants, bear torments with invincible resolution, and glory in the outward profession of Christ, until I were choked in the flame, and my body consumed to ashes. For then I could never have dishonored the Lord."
"You say you are desperate," (said they) "why then do you not strive with some weapon or other to violently to make an end of your life, as desperate men use to do?"
"Let me have a sword." (said Spira)
"Why what would you do with it?" (says they).
"I cannot tell you" (said he) "what this would move me to upon occasion — nor what I would do."
They perceiving small effect of all their labor, but rather that he grew worse — they consulted together, though he was in a much weakened state, to carry him back again into his own country. Those, his friends, who came to comfort him, began to take their leave of him. Vergerius among the rest, required that at their parting they might pray together with him. Spira hardly consented, and it was unwillingly performed for he said, "My heart is estranged from God. I cannot call him Father from my heart; all good motions are now quite gone, my heart is full of malediction, hatred, and blasphemy against God. I find I grow more and more hardened in heart and cannot stoop nor help myself. Your prayers shall turn to your own benefit, for they can do me no good."
The next day, being brought down to his intended journey, by the way looking round about him with a ghastly look, he saw a knife lying on a table, to which he running hastily snatched hold of, as intending to harm himself; but his friends laying hold of him stopped him in his purpose. Whereupon with indignation he said, "I wish I were above God, for I know he will have no mercy on me."
Thus went he homewards, often saying, that he envied the condition of Cain and Judas. He lay about eight weeks in this case, in a continual burning, neither desiring, nor receiving any nourishment, but by force, and that without digestion — so spent, that he appeared as nothing but sinews and bones. Vehemently for drink, ever pining, yet fearful to live long, in dread of Hell, yet coveting death. In a continual torment, yet his own tormentor, and thus consuming himself with grief and horror, impatience, and despair, like a living man in Hell — he represented an extraordinary example of the justice and power of God. Thus within a few days after his arrival at his own home, he departed this present life.