THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD THE BEST...
Written by: Brother Lawrence Posted on: 03/31/2003
Category: Classic Christian Library
THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD THE BEST RULE OF A HOLY LIFE
being Conversations and Letters of Brother Lawrence
Good when He gives, supremely good;
Nor less when He denies:
Afflictions, from His sovereign hand,
Are blessings in disguise.
THE EPWORTH PRESS
(Edgar C Barton)
25-35 City Road, E.C.1
"I believe in the ... communion of saints."
SURELY if additional proof of its reality were needed, it might be found
in the universal oneness of experimental Christianity in all ages and in
all lands. The experiences of Thomas Kempis, of Tauler and of Madame
Guyon, of John Woolman and Hester Ann Rogers, how marvellously they
agree, and how perfectly they harmonize! And Nicholas Herman, of
Lorraine, whose letters and converse are here given, testifies to the
same truth! In communion with Rome, a lay brother among the Carmelites,
for several years a soldier, in an irreligious age, amid a sceptical
people, yet in him the practice of the presence of GOD was as much a
reality as the "watch" of the early Friends, and the "holy seed" in him
and others was the "stock" (Isa. vi. 16) from which grew the household
and evangelistic piety of the eighteenth century, of Epworth and of
"When unadorned, adorned the most" is the line which deters from any
interpolations or interpretations other than the few "contents" headings
which are given. May the "Christ in you" be the "hope of glory" to all
Conversion and precious employment. Satisfaction in God's presence.
Faith our duty. Resignation the fruit of watchfulness.
THE first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the 3rd of August, 1666.
He told me that GOD had done him a singular favour, in his conversion at
the age of eighteen.
That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and
considering that within a little time, the leaves would be renewed, and
after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the
Providence and Power of GOD, which has never since been effaced from his
soul. That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and
kindled in him such a love for GOD, that he could not tell whether it
had increased in above forty years that he had lived since.
That he had been footman to M. Fieubert, the treasurer, and that he was
a great awkward fellow who broke everything.
That he had desired to be received into a monastery, thinking that he
would there be made to smart for his awkwardness and the faults he
should commit, and so he should sacrifice to GOD his life, with its
pleasures: but that GOD had disappointed him, he having met with
nothing but satisfaction in that state.
That we should establish ourselves in a sense of GOD's Presence, by
continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit
His conversation, to think of trifles and fooleries.
That we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of GOD;
which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.
That we ought to quicken, i.e., to enliven, our faith. That it was
lamentable we had so little; and that instead of taking faith for the
rule of their conduct, men amused themselves with trivial devotions,
which changed daily. That the way of Faith was the spirit of the
Church, and that it was sufficient to bring us to a high degree of
That we ought to give ourselves up to GOD, with regard both to things
temporal and spiritual, and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling
His will, whether He lead us by suffering or by consolation, for all
would be equal to a soul truly resigned. That there needed fidelity in
those drynesses, or insensibilities and irksomenesses in prayer, by
which GOD tries our love to Him; that then was the time for us to make
good and effectual acts of resignation, whereof one alone would
oftentimes very much promote our spiritual advancement.
That as for the miseries and sins he heard of daily in the world, he was
so far from wondering at them, that, on the contrary, he was surprised
there were not more, considering the malice sinners were capable of:
that for his part, he prayed for them; but knowing that GOD could
remedy the mischiefs they did, when He pleased, he gave himself no
That to arrive at such resignation as GOD requires, we should watch
attentively over all the passions which mingle as well in spiritual
things as those of a grosser nature: that GOD would give light
concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him. That
if this was my design, viz., sincerely to serve GOD, I might come to him
(Bro. Lawrence) as often as I pleased, without any fear of being
troublesome; but if not, that I ought no more to visit him.
Love the motive of all. Once in fear, now in joy. Diligence and
love. Simplicity the key to Divine assistance. Business abroad as at
home. times of prayer and self-mortification not essential for the
practice. All scruples brought to God.
That he had always been governed by love, without selfish views; and
that having resolved to make the love of GOD the end of all his actions,
he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. That he was
pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of
GOD, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.
That he had been long troubled in mind from a certain belief that he
should be damned; that all the men in the world could not have
persuaded him to the contrary; but that he had thus reasoned with
himself about it: I did not engage in a religious life but for the love
of GOD, and I have endeavoured to act only for Him; whatever becomes of
me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for
the love of GOD. I shall have this good at least, that till death I
shall have done all that is in me to love Him. That this trouble of
mind had lasted four years; during which time he had suffered much.
That since that time he had passed his life in perfect liberty and
continual joy. That he placed his sins betwixt him and GOD, as it were,
to tell Him that he did not deserve His favours, but that GOD still
continued to bestow them in abundance.
That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and
referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some
diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love
inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.
That he expected after the pleasant days GOD had given him, he should
have his turn of pain and suffering; but that he was not uneasy about
it, knowing very well, that as he could do nothing of himself, GOD would
not fail to give him the strength to bear them.
That when an occasion of practising some virtue offered, he addressed
himself to GOD, saying, LORD, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me;
and that then he received strength more than sufficient.
That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying
to GOD, I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself; "tis You
must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss. That after this, he
gave himself no further uneasiness about it.
That we ought to act with GOD in the greatest simplicity, speaking to
Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs,
just as they happen. That GOD never failed to grant it, as he had often
That he had been lately sent into Burgundy, to buy the provision of wine
for the society, which was a very unwelcome task for him, because he had
no turn for business and because he was lame, and could not go about the
boat but by rolling himself over the casks. That however he gave
himself no uneasiness about it, nor about the purchase of the wine.
That he said to GOD, It was His business he was about, and that he
afterwards found it very well performed. That he had been sent into
Auvergne the year before upon the same account; that he could not tell
how the matter passed, but that it proved very well.
So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally
a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for
the love of GOD, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to
do his work well, he had found everything easy, during the fifteen years
that he had been employed there.
That he was very well pleased with the post he was now in; but that he
was as ready to quit that as the former, since he was always pleasing
himself in every condition, by doing little things for the love of GOD.
That with him the set times of prayer were not different from other
times: that he retired to pray, according to the directions of his
Superior, but that he did not want such retirement. nor ask for it,
because his greatest business did not divert him from GOD.
That as he know his obligation to love GOD in all things, and as he
endeavoured so to do, he had no need of a director to advise him, but
that he needed much a confessor to absolve him. That he was very
sensible of his faults, but not discouraged by them; that he confessed
them to GOD, and did not plead against Him to excuse them. When he had
so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.
That in his trouble of mind, he had consulted nobody, but knowing only
by the light of faith that GOD was present, he contented himself with
directing all his actions to Him, i.e., doing them with a desire to
please Him, let what would come of it.
That useless thoughts spoil all: that the mischief began there; but
that we ought to reject them, as soon as we perceived their impertinence
to the matter in hand, or our salvation; and return to our communion
That at the beginning he had often passed his time appointed for prayer,
in rejecting wandering thoughts, and falling back into them. That he
could never regulate his devotion by certain methods as some do. That
nevertheless, at first he had meditated for some time, but afterwards
that went off, in a manner that he could give no account of.
That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, but as
they serve to arrive at the union with GOD by love; that he had well
considered this, and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by
a continual exercise of love, and doing all things for His sake.
That we ought to make a great difference between the acts of the
understanding and those of the will; that the first were comparatively
of little value, and the others all.
That our only business was to love and delight ourselves in GOD.
That all possible kinds of mortification, if they were void of the love
of GOD, could not efface a single sin. That we ought, without anxiety,
to expect the pardon of our sins from the Blood of JESUS CHRIST, only
endeavouring to love Him with all our hearts. That GOD seemed to have
granted the greatest favours to the greatest sinners, as more signal
monuments of His mercy.
That the greatest pains or pleasures, of this world, were not to be
compared with what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual
state: so that he was careful for nothing and feared nothing, desiring
but one only thing of GOD, viz., that he might not offend Him.
That he had no scruples; for, said he, when I fail in my duty, I
readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so: I shall never do
otherwise, if I am left to myself. If I fail not, then I give GOD
thanks, acknowledging that it comes from Him.
Faith working by love. Outward business no detriment. Perfect
resignation the sure way.
He told me, that the foundation of the spiritual life in him had been a
high notion and esteem of GOD in faith; which when he had once well
conceived, he had no other care at first, but faithfully to reject every
other thought, that he might perform all his actions for the love of
GOD. That when sometimes he had not thought of GOD for a good while, he
did not disquiet himself for it; but after having acknowledged his
wretchedness to GOD, he returned to Him with so much the greater trust
in Him, by how much he found himself more wretched to have forgot Him.
That the trust we put in GOD honours Him much, and draws down great
That it was impossible, not only that GOD should deceive, but also that
He should long let a soul suffer which is perfectly resigned to Him, and
resolved to endure everything for His sake.
That he had so often experienced the ready succours of Divine Grace upon
all occasions, that from the same experience, when he had business to
do, he did not think of it beforehand; but when it was time to do it,
he found in GOD, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do.
That of late he had acted thus, without anticipating care; but before
the experience above mentioned, he had used it in his affairs.
When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of GOD, a
fresh remembrance coming from GOD invested his soul, and so inflamed and
transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.
That he was more united to GOD in his outward employments, than when he
left them for devotion in retirement.
That he expected hereafter some great pain of body or mind; that the
worst that could happen to him was, to lose that sense of GOD, which he
had enjoyed so long; but that the goodness of GOD assured him He would
not forsake him utterly, and that He would give him strength to bear
whatever evil He permitted to happen to him; and therefore that he
feared nothing, and had no occasion to consult with anybody about his
state. That when he had attempted to do it, he had always come away
more perplexed; and that as he was conscious of his readiness to lay
down his life for the love of GOD, he had no apprehension of danger.
That perfect resignation to GOD was a sure way to heaven, a way in which
we had always sufficient light for our conduct.
That in the beginning of the spiritual life, we ought to be faithful in
doing our duty and denying ourselves; but after that unspeakable
pleasures followed: that in difficulties we need only have recourse to
JESUS CHRIST, and beg His grace, with which everything became easy.
That many do not advance in the Christian progress, because they stick
in penances, and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of
GOD, which is the end. That this appeared plainly by their works, and
was the reason why we see so little solid virtue.
That there needed neither art nor science for going to GOD, but only a
heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for
His sake, and to love Him only.
The manner of going to God. Hearty renunciation. Prayer and praise
prevent discouragement. Sanctification in common business. Prayer
and the presence of God. The whole substance of religion.
Self-estimation Further personal experience.
He discoursed with me very frequently, and with great openness of heart,
concerning his manner of going to GOD, whereof some part is related
He told me, that all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything
which we are sensible does not lead to GOD; that we might accustom
ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in sim-
plicity. That we need only to recognize GOD intimately present with us,
to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance
for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing
those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him
before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.
That in this conversation with GOD, we are also employed in praising,
adoring, and loving him incessantly, for His infinite goodness and
That, without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray
for His grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite
merits of our LORD. That GOD never failed offering us His grace at each
action; that he distinctly perceived it, and never failed of it, unless
when his thoughts had wandered from a sense of GOD's Presence, or he had
forgot to ask His assistance.
That GOD always gave us light in our doubts, when we had no other design
but to please Him.
That our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in
doing that for GOD's sake, which we commonly do for our own. That it
was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end,
addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very
imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards.
That the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of
doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, [Gal. i.
10; Eph. vi. 5, 6.] and (as far as we are capable) purely for the
love of GOD.
That it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to
differ from other times. that we are as strictly obliged to adhere to
GOD by action in the time of action, as by prayer in its season.
That his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of GOD, his
soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine love: and
that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no
difference, because he still continued with GOD, praising and blessing
Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual joy;
yet hoped that GOD would give him somewhat to suffer, when he should
That we ought, once for all, heartily to put our whole trust in GOD, and
make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not
That we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of
GOD, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which
it is performed. That we should not wonder if, in the beginning, we
often failed in our endeavours, but that at last we should gain a habit,
which will naturally produce its acts in us, without our care, and to
our exceeding great delight.
That the whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and charity; by
the practice of which we become united to the will of GOD: that all
beside is indifferent and to be used as a means, that we may arrive at
our end, and be swallowed up therein, by faith and charity.
That all things are possible to him who believes, that they are less
difficult to him who hopes, they are more easy to him who loves, and
still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three
That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this
life, the most perfect worshippers of GOD we can possibly be, as we hope
to be through all eternity.
That when we enter upon the spiritual we should consider, and examine to
the bottom, what we are. And then we should find ourselves worthy of
all contempt, and such as do not deserve the name of Christians, subject
to all kinds of misery, and numberless accidents, which trouble us, and
cause perpetual vicissitudes in our health, in our humours, in our
internal and external dispositions: in fine, persons whom GOD would
humble by many pains and labours, as well within as without. After
this, we should not wonder that troubles, temptations, oppositions and
contradictions, happen to us from men. We ought, on the contrary, to
submit ourselves to them, and bear them as long as GOD pleases, as
things highly advantageous to us.
That the greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it
is upon Divine grace.
Being questioned by one of his own society (to whom he was obliged to
open himself) by what means he had attained such an habitual sense of
GOD? he told him that, since his first coming to the monastery, he had
considered GOD as the end of all his thoughts and desires, as the mark
to which they should tend, and in which they should terminate.
That in the beginning of his novitiate he spent the hours appointed for
private prayer in thinking of GOD, so as to convince his mind of, and to
impress deeply upon his heart, the Divine existence, rather by devout
sentiments, and submission to the lights of faith, than by studied
reasonings and elaborate meditations. That by this short and sure
method, he exercised himself in the knowledge and love of GOD, resolving
to use his utmost endeavour to live in a continual sense of His
Presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.
That when he had thus in prayer filled his mind with great sentiments of
that infinite Being, he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for
he was cook to the society); there having first considered severally
the things his office required, and when and how each thing was to be
done, he spent all the intervals of his time, as well before as after
his work, in prayer.
That, when he began his business, he said to GOD, with a filial trust in
Him, "O my GOD, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to
Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to
grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou
prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my
As he proceeded in his work, he continued his familiar conversation with
his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering to Him all his actions.
When he had finished, he examined himself how he had discharged his
duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to GOD; if otherwise, he
asked pardon; and without being discouraged, he set his mind right
again, and continued his exercise of the presence of GOD, as if he had
never deviated from it. "Thus," said he, "by rising after my falls, and
by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state,
wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of GOD, as it was
at first to accustom myself to it."
As Bro. Lawrence had found such an advantage in walking in the presence
of GOD, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others; but
his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could
propose. His very countenance was edifying; such a sweet and calm
devotion appearing in it, as could not but affect the beholders. And it
was observed, that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, he
still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never
hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even
uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit. "The time of
business," said he, "does not with me differ from the time of prayer;
and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at
the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great
tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament."
How the habitual sense of God's Presence was found.
SINCE you desire so earnestly that I should communicate to you the
method by which I arrived at that habitual sense of GOD's Presence,
which our LORD, of His mercy, has been pleased to vouchsafe to me; I
must tell you, that it is with great difficulty that I am prevailed on
by your importunities; and now I do it only upon the terms, that you
show my letter to nobody. If I knew that you would let it be seen, all
the desire that I have for your advancement would not be able to
determine me to it. The account I can give you is:
Having found in many books different methods of going to GOD, and divers
practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to
puzzle me, than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but
how to become wholly GOD's.
This made me resolve to give the all for the All: so after having given
myself wholly to GOD, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins,
I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He; and I
began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. Sometimes
I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his
judge; at other times I beheld Him in my heart as my FATHER, as my GOD:
I worshipped Him the oftenest that I could, keeping my mind in His holy
Presence, and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him. I
found no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it,
notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred, without troubling or
disquieting myself when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this
my business, as much all the day long as at the appointed times of
prayer; for at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height
of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of
interrupting my thought of GOD.
Such has been my common practice ever since I entered into religion;
and though I have done it very imperfectly, yet I have found great
advantages by it. These, I well know, are to be imputed to the mere
mercy and goodness of GOD, because we can do nothing without Him; and I
still less than any. But when we are faithful to keep ourselves in His
holy Presence, and set Him always before us, this not only hinders our
offending Him, and doing anything that may displease Him, at least
wilfully, but it also begets in us a holy freedom, and if I may so
speak, a familiarity with GOD, wherewith we ask, and that successfully,
the graces we stand in need of. In fine, by often repeating these acts,
they become habitual, and the presence of GOD is rendered as it were
natural to us. Give Him thanks, if you please, with me, for His great
goodness towards me, which I can never sufficiently admire, for the many
favours He has done to so miserable a sinner as I am. May all things
praise Him. Amen.
Difference between himself and others. Faith alone consistently and
persistently. Deprecates this state being considered a delusion.
NOT finding my manner of life in books, although I have no difficulty
about it, yet, for greater security, I shall be glad to know your
thoughts concerning it.
In a conversation some days since with a person of piety, he told me the
spiritual life was a life of grace, which begins with servile fear,
which is increased by hope of eternal life, and which is consummated by
pure love; that each of these states had its different stages, by which
one arrives at last at that blessed consummation.
I have not followed all these methods. On the contrary, from I know not
what instincts, I found they discouraged me. This was the reason why,
at my entrance into religion, I took a resolution to give myself up to
GOD, as the best satisfaction I could make for my sins; and, for the
love of Him, to renounce all besides.
For the first years, I commonly employed myself during the time set
apart for devotion, with the thoughts of death, judgement, hell, heaven,
and my sins. Thus I continued some years applying my mind carefully the
rest of the day, and even in the midst of my business, to the presence
of GOD, whom I considered always as with me, often as in me.
At length I came insensibly to do the same thing during my set time of
prayer, which caused in me great delight and consolation. This practice
produced in me so high an esteem for GOD, that faith alone was capable
to satisfy me in that point. [I suppose he means that all distinct
notions he could form of GOD were unsatisfactory, because he perceived
them to be unworthy of GOD, and therefore his mind was not to be
satisfied but by the views of faith, which apprehends GOD as infinite
and incomprehensible, as He is in Himself, and not as He can be
conceived by human ideas.]
Such was my beginning; and yet I must tell you, that for the first ten
years I suffered much: the apprehension that I was not devoted to GOD,
as I wished to be, my past sins always present to my mind, and the great
unmerited favours which GOD did me, were he matter and source of my
sufferings. During this time I fell often, and rose again presently.
It seemed to me that the creatures, reason, and GOD Himself were against
me; And faith alone for me. I was troubled sometimes with thoughts,
that to believe I had received such favours was an effect of my
presumption, which pretended to be at once where others arrive with
difficulty; at other times that it was a wilful delusion, and that
there was no salvation for me.
When I thought of nothing but to end my days in these troubles (which
did not at all diminish the trust I had in GOD, and which served only to
increase my faith), I found myself changed all at once; and my soul,
which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if
she were in her centre and place of rest.
Ever since that time I walk before GOD simply, in faith, with humility
and with love; and I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think
nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I
can, He will do with me what He pleases.
As for what passes in me at present, I cannot express it. I have no
pain or difficulty about my state, because I have no will but that of
GOD, which I endeavour to accomplish in all things, and to which I am so
resigned, that I would not take up a straw from the ground against His
order, or from any other motive but purely that of love to Him.
I have quitted all forms of devotion and set prayers but those to which
my state obliges me. And I make it my business only to persevere in His
holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a
general fond regard to GOD, which I may call an actual presen
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