Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed. Then when desire hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is accomplished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variation, nor shadow of turning (as a sundial). (James 1:13, King James)
St. James says in his epistle: “Every good gift and every perfection comes from above, from the Father of lights”. Now you must know that for people who resign themselves to God and diligently seek to do His will alone, whatever God sends them will be the best. As God lives, be sure that it must be the very best, and there could never be any better way. Though some other way may seem better to you, yet it would not be so good for you: God wills this way and no other, and so this way is bound to be the best for you. Sickness or poverty, hunger or thirst—whatever God sends you or does not send you, what He grants you or withholds, that is the best for you. Even should you lack fervour and inwardness—whatever you have or lack, be minded to honour God in all things, and then whatever He sends you will be the best.
Now you might say, ‘How do I know whether it is God’s will or not?’ Be sure, if it were not God’s will it would not be. You have neither sickness nor anything else unless God wills it. And so, knowing it is God’s will, you should so rejoice in it and be content that pain would be no pain to you. Even in the extremity of pain, to feel any pain or affliction would be altogether wrong, for you should accept it from God as the best of all, for it is bound to be the best for you, for God’s being depends on His willing the best. Let me then will it too, and nothing should please me better. If there were someone I tried hard to please and who I knew for certain liked me better in a grey coat than in any other, however good—assuredly that coat would delight and please me too, more than any other, however good. If I wanted to please anybody, whatever I knew that he liked, of word and deeds, I would do that and that alone. So now, judge for yourselves of your love! If you loved God, you could rejoice in nothing more than in that which pleases Him best and that His will is done in us. However great may seem the pain or distress, unless you have an equal delight in it, it is wrong.
One thing I am wont to say and it is a fact: that we daily cry in our pater noster, ‘Lord thy will be done!’ yet when His will is done we are angry and discontented with it. But whatever He did should please us best, and those who do take it as for the best ever remain in perfect peace. But sometimes you think and say, ‘Oh, it would be better if it had turned out differently’, or ‘If it had not been so, things might have been better’. As long as you think this way you will never find peace—you should accept it all as for the best. This is the first meaning of our text.
There is another meaning, mark it well! He says: “Every gift”. Only the very best and the very highest are true gifts in the truest sense. God gives nothing so gladly as great gifts. Once in this very place I said God likes forgiving big sins more than small ones; the bigger they are, the more gladly and quickly He forgives them. It is the same with graces, gifts and virtues: the greater they are, the more gladly He bestows them, for His nature depends on giving great gifts. And so, the better the things, the more of them. . . . Great things are truly called gifts, and belong to Him most truly and inwardly.
I once said that whatever can be truly put into words must come from within, moved by its inner form; it must not come in from without, but come out from within. It truly lives in the inmost part of the soul. There all things are present to you, living within and seeking, and are at their best and highest. Why are you unaware of this? Because you do not dwell there. The nobler a thing is the more general it is. Feelings I have in common with beasts, and life I have in common even with trees. Being is still more innate in me, and that I share with all creatures. Heaven is greater than everything that is under it, and so it is the nobler. The nobler things are, the greater and the more universal. Love is noble because it is universal. It seems hard to do as our Lord commands and love our fellow Christians as ourselves. The common run of men generally say we should love them for the good [in them] for which we love ourselves. Not so. We should love them exactly the same as ourselves, and that is not difficult. Properly considered, love is more a reward [we gain for ourselves] than a gift [to another]. The command seems hard, but the reward is desirable. Whoever loves God as he ought and must (whether he would or not), and as all creatures love Him, he must love his fellow man as himself, rejoicing in his joys as his own joys, and desiring his honour as much as his own honour, and loving a stranger as one of his own. This way a man is always joyful, honoured and advantaged, just as if he were in heaven, and so he has more joy than if he rejoiced only in his own good. And you should know in truth that if you take more pleasure in our own honour than in that of another, that is wrong.
Remember, if you seek anything [for yourself] you will never find God, for you are not seeking God alone. You are looking for something with God, treating God like a candle with which to look for something, and when you have found what you were looking for, you throw the candle away. That is what you are doing. Whatever you look for with God is nothing. All creatures are pure nothing. I do not say they are a trifle or they are anything: they are pure nothing. What has no being, is not. All creatures have no being, for their being consists in the presence of God. If God turned away for an instant from all creatures, they would perish. I have sometimes said, and it is true, that he who possessed the whole world with God would have no more than if he had God alone. All creatures have nothing more without God than a midge [a tiny flying insect] would have without God—just the same, neither more nor less.
Now listen to a true saying! If a man gave a thousand marks of gold for building churches and convents, that would be a great thing. Yet that man would give far more who could regard a thousand marks as nothing; he would have done far more than the other. When God created all creatures, they were so poor and narrow that He could not move in them. But the soul He made so like Himself and so much in His own image, on purpose [in order] to give Himself to her; for whatever else He gave her she had no care for. God must give me Himself for my own as He is His own, or I shall get nothing and nothing will [suit me]. Whoever shall thus receive Him outright must have wholly renounced himself and gone out of himself. He gets straight from God all that He has, as his own just as much as it is His . . . Those who have gone out of themselves and renounced themselves in equal measure will receive equally, and no less.
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Now consider the words: “They come from above”. As I have clearly stated before, whoever would receive from above must needs be beneath in true humility. Know this truly: he who is not fully below obtains and receives nothing, however small. If you have an eye on yourself or on any thing or person, you are not right beneath and will get nothing; but if you are right beneath, you will receive fully and perfectly. It is God’s nature to give, and His being depends on His giving to us when we are beneath. If we are not, and receive nothing, we do Him violence and kill Him. If we cannot do this to Him, then we do it to ourselves, as far as it lies in us. If you would truly give Him all, see to it that you put yourself in true humility beneath God, raising up God in your heart and your understanding. . . . This is the meaning of the words: “The best gift and perfection come from above, from the Father of lights”.
That we may be made ready to receive this best gift, may God help us, the Father of lights. Amen.
M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises Volume I. UK: Element Books Limited (pp. 281-286).