Spirit of Prayer

Readings and resources in the Spirit of Prayer—
Communing with God, others and self

Thomas Traherne's


edited by Bertram Dobell



THE objects of Felicity, and the way of enjoying them, are two material themes; wherein to be instructed is infinitely desirable, because as necessary as profitable. Whether of the two, the object or the way be more glorious, it is difficult to determine. God is the object, and God is the way of enjoying. God in all His excellencies, laws, and works, in all His ways and counsels is the sovereign object of all Felicity. Eternity and Time, Heaven and Earth, Kingdoms and Ages, Angels and Men are in Him to be enjoyed. In Him the Fountain, in Him the End, in Him the Light, the Life, the Way, in Him the glory and crown of all. Yet for distinction sake we will speak of several eminent particulars, beginning with His attributes.


The Infinity of God is our enjoyment, because it is the region and extent of His dominion. Barely as it comprehends infinite space, it is infinitely delightful; because it is the room and the place of our treasures, the repository of joys, and the dwelling place, yea the seat and throne, and Kingdom of our souls. But as it is the Light wherein we see, the Life that inspires us, the violence of His love, and the strength of our enjoyments, the greatness and perfection of every creature,the amplitude that enlargeth us, and the field wherein our thoughts expatiate without limit or restraint, the ground and foundation of all our satisfactions, the operative energy and power of the Deity; the measure of our delights, and the grandeur of our soul, it is more our treasure, and ought more abundantly to be delighted in. It surroundeth us continually on every side, it fills us, and inspires us. It is so mysterious, that it is wholly within us, and even then it wholly seems and is without us. It is more inevitably and constantly, more nearly and immediately our dwelling place, than our cities and kingdoms and houses. Our bodies themselves are not so much ours, or within us as that is. The immensity of God is an eternal tabernacle. Why then we should not be sensible of that as much as of our dwellings, I cannot tell, unless our corruption and sensuality destroy us. We ought always to feel, admire, and walk in it. It is more clearly objected to the eye of the soul, than our castles and palaces to the eye of the body. Those accidental buildings may be thrown down, or we may be taken from them, but this can never be removed, it abideth for ever. It is impossible not to be within it, nay, to be so surrounded as evermore to be in the centre and midst of it, wherever we can possibly remove, is inevitably fatal to every being.*

*This is the reading of the original MS.; but doubtless the author has here omitted some words which would have made his meaning plain.


Creatures that are able to dart their thoughts into all spaces can brook no limit or restraint; they are infinitely indebted to this illimited extent, because were there no such infinity, there would be no room for their imaginations; their desires and affections would be cooped up, and their souls imprisoned. We see the heavens with our eyes, and know the world with our senses. But had we no eyes, nor senses, we should see infinity like the Holy Angels. The place wherein the world standeth, were it all annihilated would still remain, the endless extent of which we feel so really and palpably, that we do not more certainly know the distinctions and figures and bounds and distances of what we see, than the everlasting expansion of what we feel and behold within us. It is an object infinitely great and ravishing: as full of treasures as full of room, and as fraught with joy as capacity. To blind men it seemeth dark, but is all glorious within, as infinite is light and beauty as extent and treasure. Nothing is in vain, much less infinity. Every man is alone the centre and circumference of it. It is all his own, and so glorious, that it is the eternal and incomprehensible essence of the Deity, A cabinet of infinite value, equal in beauty, lustre, and perfection to all its treasures. It is the Bosom of God, the Soul and Security of every Creature.


Were it not for this infinity, God's bounty would of necessity be limited. His goodness would want a receptacle for its effusions. His gifts would be confined into narrow room, and His Almighty Power for lack of a theatre magnificent enough, a storehouse large enough, be straitened. But Almighty Power includes Infinity in its own existence. For because God is infinitely able to do all things, there must of necessity be an infinite capacity to answer that power, because nothing itself is an obedient subject to work upon: and the eternal privation of infinite perfections is to Almighty Power a Being capable of all. As sure as there is a Space infinite, there is a Power, a Bounty, a Goodness, a Wisdom infinite, a Treasure, a Blessedness, a Glory.


Infinity of space is like a painter's table, prepared for the ground and field of those colours that are to be laid thereon. Look how great he intends the picture, so great doth he make the table. It would be an absurdity to leave it unfinished, or not to fill it. To leave any part of it naked and bare, and void of beauty, would render the whole ungrateful to the eye, and argue a defect of time or materials, or wit in the limner. As the table is infinite so are the pictures. God's Wisdom is the art, His Goodness the will, His Word the pencil, His Beauty and Power the colours, His Pictures are all His Works and Creatures. Infinitely more real and more glorious, as well as more great and manifold than the shadows of a landscape. But the Life of all is, they are the spectator's own. He is in them as in his territories, and in all these views his own possessions.


One would think that besides infinite space there could be no more room for any treasure. Yet to show that God is infinitely infinite, there is infinite room besides, and perhaps a more wonderful region making this to be infinitely infinite. No man will believe besides the space from the centre of the earth to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills, there should be any more. Beyond those bounds perhaps there may, but besides all that space that is illimited and present before us, and absolutely endless every way, where can there be any room for more? This is the space that is at this moment only present before our eye, the only space that was, or that will be, from everlasting to everlasting. This moment exhibits infinite space, but there is a space also wherein all moments are infinitely exhibited, and the everlasting duration of infinite space is another region and room of joys. Wherein all ages appear together, all occurrences stand up at once, and the innumerable and endless myriads of years that were before the creation, and will be after the world is ended, are objected as a clear and stable object, whose several parts extended out at length, give an inward infinity to this moment, and compose an eternity that is seen by all comprehensors and enjoyers.


Eternity is a mysterious absence of times and ages: an endless length of ages always present, and for ever perfect. For as there is an immovable space wherein all finite spaces are enclosed, and all motions carried on and performed; so is there an immovable duration, that contains and measures all moving durations. Without which first the last could not be; no more than finite places, and bodies moving without infinite space. All ages being but successions correspondent to those parts of the Eternity wherein they abide, and filling no more of it, than ages can do. Whether they are commensurate with it or no, is difficult to determine. But the infinite immovable duration is Eternity, the place and duration of all things, even of infinite space itself: the cause and end, the author and beautifier, the life and perfection of all.


Eternity magnifies our joys exceedingly, for whereas things in themselves began, and quickly end; before they came, were never in being; do service but for few moments; and after they are gone pass away and leave us for ever, Eternity retains the moments of their beginning and ending within itself: and from everlasting to everlasting those things were in their times and places before God, and in all their circumstances eternally will be, serving Him in those moments wherein they existed, to those intents and purposes for which they were created. The swiftest thought is present with Him eternally: the creation and the day of judgment, His first consultation, choice and determination, the result and end of all just now in full perfection, ever beginning, ever passing, ever ending with all the intervals of space between things and things: As if those objects that arise many thousand years one after the other were all together. We also were ourselves before God eternally; and have the joy of seeing ourselves eternally beloved and eternally blessed, and infinitely enjoying all the parts of our blessedness; in all the durations of eternity appearing at once before ourselves, when perfectly consummate in the Kingdom of Light and Glory. The smallest thing by the influence of eternity, is made infinite and eternal. We pass through a standing continent or region of ages, that are already before us, glorious and perfect while we come to them. Like men in a ship we pass forward, the shores and marks seeming to go backward, though we move and they stand still. We are not with them in our progressive motion, but prevent the swiftness of our course, and are present with them in our understandings. Like the sun we dart our rays before us, and occupy those spaces with light and contemplation which we move towards, but possess not with our bodies. And seeing all things in the light of Divine knowledge, eternally serving God, rejoice unspeakably in that service, and enjoy it all.


His omnipresence is our ample territory or field of joys, a transparent temple of infinite lustre, a strong tower of defence, a castle of repose, a bulwark of security, a palace of delights, an immediate help, and a present refuge in the needful time of trouble, a broad and a vast extent of fame and glory, a theatre of infinite excellency, an infinite ocean by means whereof every action, word, and thought is immediately diffused like a drop of wine in a pail of water, and everywhere present, everywhere seen and known, infinitely delighted in, as well as filling infinite spaces. It is the Spirit that pervades all His works, the life and soul of the universe, that in every point of space from the centre to the heavens, in every kingdom in the world, in every city, in every wilderness, in every house, every soul, every creature, in all the parts of His infinity and eternity sees our persons; loves our virtues, inspires us with itself, and crowns our actions with praise and glory. It makes our honour infinite in extent, our glory immense, and our happiness eternal. The rays of our light are by this means darted from everlasting to everlasting. This spiritual region makes us infinitely present with God, Angels, and Men in all places from the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills, throughout all the unwearied durations of His endless infinity, and gives us the sense and feeling of all the delights and praises we occasion, as well as of all the beauties and powers, and pleasures and glories which God enjoyeth or createth.


Our Bridegroom and our King being everywhere, our Lover and Defender watchfully governing all worlds, no danger or enemy can arise to hurt us, but is immediately prevented and suppressed, in all the spaces beyond the utmost borders of those unknown habitations which He possesseth. Delights of inestimable value are there preparing, for everything is present by its own existence. The essence of God therefore being all light and knowledge, love and goodness, care and providence, felicity and glory, a pure and simple act, it is present in its operations, and by those acts which it eternally exerteth is wholly busied in all parts and places of His dominion, perfecting and completing our bliss and happiness.


Notes on The Fifth Century

Meditation10. Here the manuscript ends. That the author intended to continue his work there can be no doubt, and we may therefore conclude that he was prevented from finishing it by his too early death. It is a loss to us that it is thus incomplete: yet in the work as it stands we have perhaps a sufficiently full statement of the main points of the author's religion and philosophy. Like all other creeds it will perhaps only appeal to those minds which are prepared to receive it; but it is one, nevertheless; which must command the respect even of those who are least inclined to accept its teachings. It presents Christianity (or at least Protestant Christianity) in its most favourable aspect; nor is it likely that as an eloquent and persuasive exposition of its leading doctrines it will ever be surpassed or superseded: There are no doubt some few things in it which even devout believers will no longer hold themselves bound to accept as necessary to salvation; but on the whole, if the Christian faith is not to undergo an entire transformation at the hands of its modern apologists, it must be expounded as Traherne expounds it, not as a collection of soulless dogmas embodied in formal confessions of faith, but as a great reality, which is of the deepest concernment to all men, and without which the life of man is an inexplicable enigma.

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And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.
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