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Description: Readings from Molinos
Intellectual Versus Heart Knowledge of God
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
One of the more enjoyable experiences for me, when we had Campus Church, was when we used to go to
the river at the University after the morning service to have a time of lunch and games. When that
was going on, often new people would be coming.
I was in the middle of the big field playing games and I suddenly heard this voice. Now, for a
Northern Ireland protestant it was the most embarrassing thing he could hear. He could imagine his
mother up in Heaven looking down on him, as this young lady spoke — who had just come and was
obviously new that day. The ball had come to me and I heard across the whole place “Father, throw it
to me!” I thought what was my mother thinking? But it was a dear Catholic thinking that I was the
That was one of the many enjoyable things I remember as well as being with those of you that had a
Catholic background. It was reinforced in me when I taught at the Catholic Benilde High School, an
appreciation of the Catholic scholars, saints, and church. It probably had come before that because
John Wesley was enthusiastic about Thomas A ’Kempis who wrote the Imitation of Christ. That was
probably one of Wesley’s favorite books. So I had learned to respect A ‘Kempis and the whole
tradition of the saints. That intensified when I went to teach at Benilde High School and became
more comfortable with the Mass and sacraments.
Eventually through my wife I got to know the most popular Italian restaurant in New York which is Il
Molinos, that leads me to this book about Michael de Molinos with an introduction by McFadden of
Hertfordshire. McFadden was right when they said that the Jesuits got Michael Molinos and put him
in prison for six years where he died in 1679. In the eyes of the Jesuits and Benedictines he
threatened their very existence because he said you could approach God directly. You didn’t need the
sacraments and confession which were the basis of their own existence. And so the Jesuits and
Benedictines were not in favor of people like Molinos, Madame Guyon, or Bishop Fenelon.
That whole group emphasized that you could approach God directly and that you could do it through
your own inner life. And so Molinos died in prison after writing this Spiritual Guide. This became a
well-known statement of what was called the “Quietist Movement”. The “Quietists” were related
closely with the “Pietists” and Wesley would have been involved at some point with the Quietists.
Wesley would often be skeptical of the mystics because he would be afraid of the way they could move
into speculative Gnosticism that was not Biblical. But still, Wesley lived continually in the same
world as A ‘Kempis as far as the inner life is concerned.
Molinos wrote this “Spiritual Guide” which is good. You do have to allow for their use of terms. At
times they almost seem to describe passivity as they talk about having the mind void. They don’t
mean absolutely void. They mean void of secular issues. If you wanted to know the distinction
between “Quietism” and true worship of God I think it’s that real Quietists who are true and honest
before God will have scriptural truths in their mind. They will not just be blank. A lawyer I used
to work with on properties at the University of Minnesota would say to me, “Pastor you don’t want
them to think you’re out here ‘laying in the weeds’.” Laying in the weeds meant doing nothing.
I don’t think the Quietest believed in that. They believed that the mind should have scripture
truths in it and should not just be blank. So they didn’t believe in passivity. But it certainly
emphasizes the quiet in their life.
The theologian Karl Barth said, “Talk about God in the presence of God.” We can often talk about God
like you were looking at him as an object external to yourself. It ends up a very cerebral kind of
theology and belief. Often the people who accuse the intellectuals of being cerebral are themselves
cerebral. Their theology and Christian life is filled with ideas. That’s part of the dissatisfaction
we feel today when we read religious books. They are always talking “issues”. It’s either the
politically famous issues of abortion or something else but it fails to come close to the heart of
God. And that’s part of the weakness of the modern Christology that we have. It’s too mental and
cerebral. It’s always preoccupied with ideas and thoughts but rarely a direct sense of God’s
That’s what Barth meant when he said, “You ought to talk about God in the presence of God,” i.e.
with a sense of awe and dignity that you have in prayer. That’s why I think that Molinos is good. If
you’ll bear with me I’m just going to read the first little chapter slowly so that you can think
“You are to know that your soul (he means your inner life) is the center habitation and kingdom of
God. That therefore so that the sovereign king may rest on that throne of your soul, you ought to
take pains to keep it clean, quiet, void, and peaceable. (It makes you stop and think that this is
where God dwells.) Clean from guilt and defects, quiet from fears, void of affections (affections of
human beings rather than God), desires, and thoughts and peaceable in temptations and tribulations.”
Of course we get used to having all those things in us and having to beat our way into God’s
presence. Molinos is saying that you ought to keep your soul free from those.
“You ought always then to keep your heart in peace that you may keep pure that temple of God. And
with a right and pure intention you are to work, pray, obey and suffer without being in the least
moved – whatever it pleases the Lord to send to you.” (He’s saying that we need to have control of
our inner mind.) “Because it is certain that for the good of your soul and for your spiritual profit
he will suffer the envious enemy to trouble that city of rest and throne of peace with temptations,
suggestions, and tribulations and by the means of creatures, with painful troubles and grievous
We think, “Why doesn’t he leave me alone? Why doesn’t he do it right? Why do they keep asking me for
this?” It’s for the good of your soul. So, it’s part of that attitude that everything is under the
control of our Father. He allows nothing to us but what is good for us.
“Be constant and cheer up your heart in whatsoever disquiet these tribulations may come to you.
Enter within it that you may overcome it. For therein is the divine fortress which defends, protects
and fights for you. If a man has a safe fortress he is not disquieted though his enemies pursue him.
For by retreating within it these are disappointed and overcome. The strong castle that will make
you triumph over your enemies – visible and invisible – and over all their snares and tribulations
is within your own soul because in it resides the divine aid and sovereign succor. Retreat within it
and all will be quiet, secure, peaceable, and calm.
As we travel around to the stores in our business we witness to Christ. In our minds we all thought
that we’d look out for a moment when we could bring God into the conversation. We haven’t found too
many moments like that so we keep our eye out for a topical event they bring up where we can bring
God into it. Maybe they’ll have a death in their family or maybe the business is going badly that
they are worried or anxious and then we’ll witness.
I think for many years that was about what we thought and were able to do in regards to witnessing.
I’m not knocking that but of course it is very limited. It means you have to work the conversation
around a certain way and even after you’ve done that, what you’ve done is pass some words to them
which may or may not strike their hearts. But that was often the extent of our witness. Some of us
still feel that we do too much of that and too little of the other. What is the other?
The other is this, “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love in which he loved us, even when
we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him
and made us sit with him in the Heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That is, before all of this took
place God did that. “Even when you were dead through your trespasses God made you alive with God.”
Before the foundation of the world the lamb was crucified. And he was raised and we were raised with
him. Bit by bit we have begun to grasp that.
You mean God has done all that? You mean it’s all already true? You mean we are all already at his
right hand? That’s really where we are? Yes, that’s really where you are.
Some of us who read Watchman Nee in the old days remember him saying, “Position is everything.” Nee
would say it’s not your condition, it’s your position. If that’s where you are that’s where your
head is and that’s where your heart is. That’s where your truth and reality is and that’s where your
witness begins to come.
You move into a store where there is death and despair all around because they haven’t sold anything
for the whole week and you come in at the right hand of God. And you come in with the lightness and
brightness of that place. That comes into the store with you. It’s our version of the British
commercial traveler with the cigarette stuck in his mouth and the little happy joke that he gives to
the store owners to brighten their day. Of course it doesn’t brighten their day but instead
irritates them. But it’s God’s real version of that. It’s his child who is clear that his position
is at God’s right hand and that’s the position he lives in as he goes through the door. That’s where
real witness begins. It comes from inside your heart. The shop owner begins to sense that this
salesman is happy because he seems to actually have peace in his heart. He sees a steadiness that is
above the mess that we have down here.
We’ve begun to see that and that’s what Molinos is talking about when he speaks of the fortress
within. It’s a life of reality within us. That’s the secret within us that we need to guard. Often
our failure is that we don’t realize that’s where our strength is and we don’t guard it. We let come
in worries, anxieties and tribulations and then we wonder why can’t we witness to someone else? It’s
because we aren’t dwelling in our position and aren’t resting in it. So Molinos knew this kind of
It’s very hard for us to grasp the concept of “a millisecond ” — but it’s the only thing that makes
sense. It’s silly for us to think that it took God awhile to sort this thing out. He made these
people that are like his son but then ooops what will happen to my son when he exercises his free
will and they exercise theirs? God doesn’t have to take all that time to work out those things. He
doesn’t need to see man fallen before he does it. He doesn’t need to see the little immigrant boy
laying in the sand dead. God doesn’t need to wait till he sees that before he feels the pain. He
feels the pain back in the millisecond before he made the world. He did the suffering then. He fore
saw all that. He knew all that. And that’s why that millisecond is so important. He has seen it all
and he has borne it all.
That’s part of where our peace comes from. He has not only borne it all but he has overcome it all.
And so these things are no surprise to him. He is not caught out by what is happening to us. He is
not caught out by the trouble you had with the car last week. He’s not caught out by the person
you’ll visit next Thursday who has not sold much of our product all season. He knows that and he has
taken steps to adjust appropriately. It’s in that peace that he’s talking about here. That peace is
there in each of our hearts where we know reality and truth.
“The strong castle that will make you triumph over all your enemies – visible and invisible – and
over all the snares and tribulations is within your own soul because within it resides the divine
aid and sovereign succor. Retreat within it and all will be quiet and secure, peaceable and calm. It
ought to be your chief and continual exercise to pacify that throne of your heart that the supreme
king may rest therein.”
It’s that Jesus may be able to rest therein. He’s not in there in the midst of chaos. He’s in there
in his own home. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice I will come in and
dwell with him (me as the guest) and he with me (me as the host). So when Christ becomes the host
then peace lives in your heart.
“It ought to be your chief and continual exercise to pacify that throne of your heart that the
supreme king may rest therein. The way to pacify it will be to enter into your self (He doesn’t mean
your selfish self but your inner being) by means of recollection.” (Re means back and collect is to
collect back. It is collecting back your thoughts. It is looking back to what reality is. It’s
recollecting that you’re not stuck here in this shop. You are at the right hand of God. )
“Enter into your self by means of internal recollection. All your protection is to be prayer and a
loving recollection in the divine presence. When you feel yourself sharply assaulted, retreat into
the region of peace where you’ll find the fortress. When you are more faint-hearted, take yourself
to this refuge of prayer, the only armor for overcoming the enemy and mitigating the tribulation.
You ought not to be at a distance from it in a storm so that you may as another Noah experience
tranquility, security, and serenity. And so that you may be resigned, devout, peaceful, and
Don’t you think it’s a big problem today in our country? As long as you appear on the outside to be
good you can be chaotic on the inside. As long as outwardly you do the work of the Christian you do
what you want in your heart. It ties up with just secularism too. People don’t seem to care too much
what others think inside as long as you do outside what seems right. Of course it makes foolishness
of everything. Marriages are falling to bits because we are making a lot of the outside appearance
and behavior and not caring about what’s inside. Men and women are learning to lie to each other in
their eyes all the time, while they do all kinds of things secretly in their hearts.
And so it’s in the heart that has the key to everything. It’s so easy as Christians to be like that.
We are great at discussing religious truths and the right way to believe about things but inside, in
our hearts, we are not filled with that.
“Finally, do not be afflicted or discouraged to see yourself faint-hearted. He yearns to quiet you
that still he may stir you. Because this divine Lord will be alone with you to rest in your soul and
form therein a rich throne of peace.”
The Savior is in each of us but we relegate that to an idea. “Oh yes, I know he’s within me. Christ
is there the hope of glory. Yes, of course that’s true.” But we wouldn’t say it like that if it
were true. We would be saying, “Yes, I am privileged that the Lord of glory is indeed inside of me.
I am a privileged man.”
“That within your own heart, by means of internal recollection and with his heavenly grace you may
look for silence and tumult, because this divine Lord will be alone with you to rest in your soul
and form therein a rich throne of peace that within your own heart by means of internal recollection
and with his heavenly grace you may look for silence in tumult, solitude in company, light in
darkness, forgetfulness in pressures, vigor in despondency, courage in fear, resistance in
temptation, peace in war and quiet in tribulation.”
I would submit to you that we lose the battle before we engage in it. Our general attitude is,
“that’s ridiculous”. My mind is full of all kinds of things. My feelings go this way and that.
Molinos would say no, this is the least you need. God is within you. If he’s not there he’s not
anywhere. Either he is in you or he’s not.
If it was Queen Elizabeth in you, you would be saying, “Your majesty, I’m so delighted to have you.
It’s such a privilege.” So, I think there is great truth in this. I think Molinos is right. The key
is do we really believe that he’s within us? And in the light of that do we arrange the furniture
accordingly? If you don’t arrange the furniture accordingly you’re not benefiting from his presence
and you’re not experiencing his presence.
You say, “Oh yes, he really is present in me.” But I would say, “Really?” Do we actually respect him
inside and arrange things inside? I’d imagine you’ve done what I have often done. You’ve said,
“Well, I can think about these things and not necessarily have them vitally realistic in me. But I
am thinking the truth. I believe that.” I would say again “Really? You believe it but you don’t
treat it as real?” That’s very tricky.
I think it’s true. Ask yourself if that place inside you — where you conceive and think of things –
are those in order? Are they consistent with what you say you believe? Or are you running a double
operation – a place where you believe it theoretically but then behave according to what is really
inside? Let us pray.