Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1: 21


Book Three:

Chapter Three: That This Conformity of the Human Will
to the Divine is a Sacrifice Most Acceptable to God

I AFFIRM that next after the Heavenly Lamb, Which is wont to be daily offered, the offering of one's own will is the sacrifice most acceptable to God. S. Jerome, writing to Lucinius (Ep. 28 ad. Lucin. and Ep. 103 ad Paulin.), draws the following admirable distinction:-----"To offer gold," he says, "is the act of beginners, not of the perfect. Crates, the Theban, did this, and so did Antisthenes. To offer oneself to God is peculiarly the act of Christians." He has given all to God who has offered himself. And God, desiring this one thing, says:-----"My son, give Me thy heart." (Prov. XXIII. 26) When you have given this you will be accounted to have given everything.

1. But in order that this offering of one's heart or will may be acceptable to God, it is necessary that he who makes the offering should be in a state of grace. S. Basil remarks upon that verse of the Psalms,-----"Bring to the Lord, O ye children of God, bring to the Lord the offspring of rams" (Ps. XXVIII. 1)-----"Be a child of God before you offer those things which are pleasing to God."

You ought at least to mourn that you have fallen from grace, and endeavour to return. A contrite and a humble heart God will not despise. S. Augustine (De Quantit. Animae, 20) says most strikingly:-----"I could wish that I might do nothing else than restore myself to Him to Whom I chiefly owe myself, and that I should thus become to God that which the poet (HORACE, Sat. II. 7) speaks of, a friend and servant of my Lord." And exhorting all others to the same, he says,-----"Believe in God firmly, and trust your entire self to Him as much as you can. Refrain from wishing to be, as it were, your own, and under your own power; but profess yourself to be the servant of that most merciful and beneficent Lord. For so He will not fail to raise you up to Himself, and will permit nothing to befall you but for your profit, even though you know it not." And again, further confirming this, he says,-----"We can offer nothing more acceptable to Him than that we should say with Isaias, 'Lord, possess us.'" (Isaias XXVI. 13. Septuagint) Some there are who offer wax or oil for trimming lamps in churches. These votive offerings cost much money; but they are not on that account the best, or perfect. Another vows abstinence from wine, or determines to give larger alms; it is a costly vow, but yet not the best ot all. In this case what could poor men do? God does not ask your oil or wax; but that which He redeemed-----your soul; offer this to Him. And if you ask me how I am to offer to Him my soul which He already has in His Own power, I reply, by holy manners, by pure thoughts, by fruitful works. In this way Anna offered her Samuel; thus the most blessed Virgin offered JESUS; thus John the Baptist was offered while yet an infant: and in the same way S. Gregory Nazianzen, S. Dominic, S. Bonaventure, S. Bernardine, and S. Bernard, having been offered to God by their parents, grew up to be men of most saintly lives. But if it profits so much to be offered by others, how greatly will it profit to be offered by oneself! And this King David most fully carried out when he said:-----"I will freely sacrifice to Thee." (Ps. LIII. 6)

It is wonderfully gratifying to each one of us when anyone unreservedly devotes himself to us. Once upon a tittle, when many people were making offerings of various kinds to Socrates, according to ,their means, Æschines, who was a listener, but a poor man, said,-----"I can find nothing worthy of you which I can give, and it is only in this way that I am conscious of my poverty; and so I give you the only thing which I have-----myself. And this gift, such as it is, I pray you to take in good part, and remember that when others gave much to you, they kept back more for themselves." And by this gift of his Æschines outdid the spirited generosity of Alcibiades, which was equal to his wealth, as also the munificence of all the rich young men. Do you perceive, then, how his soul found means to be liberal, even in the midst of poverty itself? We must not inquire of what value things may be, but with what sort of intention they are given, and with what readiness of will. That man gives much to God, yea, he gives everything, who daily transfuses himself and his will into the Divine Will. And this must be done not merely once or twice every day, but very often; yea, a hundred or a thousand times, and specially so when any one feels that he is wavering, or is being assaulted by temptation, or perceives that he fails of success in anything, or that things turn out according to his wishes, then he must cry out,-----"O my Lord, and my God, I offer myself to Thee to fulfill all Thy Good-pleasure. Thy Will be done!" And this produces patience in adversity, and sobriety and moderation in prosperity. This restrains the afflicted, even when all things turn out most gloomily, from giving way to impious speeches and impatience. This increases merit; this in a wonderful way makes God favourable to man; this is a shield against every calamity.

2. S. Bernard (Serm. de Quadrupl. Deb.), wishing to persuade all people to this, says,-----"I have but two small things, or, rather, two very small things, body and soul. Or I might more truly say, I have but one small thing, my will; and shall I not surrender it to the Will of Him Who, though He, is so great, presents me, insignificant as I am, with such great blessings, and Who purchased me wholly with His whole Self? Otherwise, if I retain it, with what sort of face, with what eyes, with what mind, with what conscience, can I appeal to the bowels of the mercy of our God?" S. Chrysostom, speaking of the blessed Paul daily offering himself to God, says,-----"Abel offered a sacrifice, and on that account is praised; but if we examine Paul's victim it will be found to be as superior to Abel's as Heaven is higher than the earth. For he did not offer sheep or oxen, but day by day he sacrificed himself. Nor, indeed, was he satisfied with such sacrifices as this, but because he had already devoted himself to God, he studied to offer the whole world also." And so that man of fire, being inflamed with such zeal through the oblation of himself, avoided no labour, and shrank from no danger, being perfectly ready to endure all things for God.

In the reign of Diocletian, a priest named Epictetus, and Astion, who lived a most religious life in the East, were seized by Latronianus and thrown into prison. Whereupon Epictetus said,-----"If the judge shall examine us tomorrow, my excellent Astion, and inquire about our name, our parents, and country, let us make this single reply, 'We are Christians; and this is our name, our kindred, and our country.' But if God wills that we should be torn to pieces by tortures, let us say nothing In the midst of them but this, 'Lord JESUS, Thy Will ever be done in us!' " The next day they were summoned from the prison to a judgment-seat which had been prepared in the middle of the marketplace; and Latronianus sitting on the tribunal, while all the people were standing round, began to inquire of what family, tribe, and country they were. To which Epictetus replied,-----"We are Christians; and the children of Christian parents." "That is not my question," said Latronianus; "tell me your names; this is not the first time I have known of the perfidy of your sect."

To which again the holy Martyrs replied,-----"We are Christians; we worship Christ JESUS, and detest idols." When he heard this the judge was furious, and ordered them to be stripped of their clothes and to be cruelly beaten; but with eyes raised towards Heaven, they still exclaimed amidst the bloody stripes,-----"Lord JESUS, Thy Will be done in us." Whereupon Latronianus bitterly mocked them, and inquired,-----"Where is that Defender of yours, Whose aid you are imploring? Let Him come and deliver you from my hands." And then the holy Martyrs cried out afresh,-----"We are Christians; may the Will of our God be done in us!" The judge was excited almost to madness at these words, and ordered the Martyrs to be carried to the "Horse," [an instrument of torture] and to be savagely torn with its iron hoofs. But not even thus could any other words be wrung from them than,-----"We are Christians, thou tyrant Latronianus; may the Will of our God be done in us!" The judge, thinking it derogatory to his dignity that he should be outdone in this way, ordered lighted faggots to be applied as they hung above them. And still nothing else was heard than before,-----"We are Christians; may the Will of God be done in us!" When they had been released from all these tortures they were led back to prison. After being a spectator of this tragic sight, Vigilantius, who was an assessor of the judge, from having heard the expression so often repeated,-----"We are Christians; may the will of God be done in us,"-----felt persuaded that it was an incantation of wonderful power, which could entirely take away the pain of grief, and even in the midst of tortures themselves prevent their being felt. He commenced, therefore, repeating these same words, as a most potent charm against every kind of injury, and he said nothing when standing, sitting, walking, at home, abroad, retiring to rest, or rising from his bed, but these same words,-----"We are Christians; may the Will of God be done in us!" And in this way he spent three days, while God showed mercy upon him as on a child of good disposition. At length, on the fourth day, impelled by some secret power, he rushed out into the street, and began to cry out before all the people,-----"I am a Christian, thou tyrant Latronianus; may the Will of my God be done in me!" Being admitted into the prison of the Martyrs, he was Baptized with all his family; and, in order to show his gratitude to his teachers, he buried them after they were beheaded. The next day Latronianus ordered the priest Epictetus and Astion to be brought before him; and determining now to act with craft, he inquired,-----"Are you ready to sacrifice to the gods? or do you still persist in your madness?" To whom Epictetus replied,-----"You are wasting your labour, Latronianus, for we do not worship these monsters of Hell; you will wrest our lives from us more easily than this determination. We have already said, and for thousands and thousands of times will continue to say,-----'We are Christians; may the Will of God be done in us!' " Upon this-----Latronianus began to roar like a lion, and cried out to the ministers of death around him,-----"Bring quickly vinegar and salt; let these wretches feel that they have wounds; and be not sparing over them, but rub their lacerated limbs with vinegar and salt." But the Martyrs altered not a single word of what they had said before. The confession of each was alike unflinching in its steadfastness,-----"We are Christians; may the Will of God be done in us!" But as they still survived these tortures, they were thrown into prison again, and were brought out afresh after thirty days, and were wounded in the face with large stones, and most cruelly beaten with ashen sticks. But even then they both broke forth with the same exclamation-----"O Lord our God, Thy Will be done in us!" At length sentence was passed upon them that they should be put to death outside the city. As they were being led along they encouraged one another with these words,-----"Praise the Name of the Lord, because in all things the Will of our God is done in us!" When they had reached the place of execution they cried out, with a loud voice,-----"Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Thou God of our fathers, and worthy art Thou to be praised and highly exalted, because not the will of man, but Thy Will, is in all things done in us!"

The time had now come when their heads were to be struck off with an axe, and then a noble rivalry arose between these most glorious athletes as to which should first receive the stroke; one deferring to the other for honour's sake. Whereupon Epictetus, who was sixty years old and grey-headed, using the authority which belonged to his age, said that he desired that Astion should be dispatched first. Nor did Astion long resist, for he said,-----"O my father and venerable priest of God, the Will of God and thy will be done!" Having said this, and commended his soul to his Maker, he offered his head to be struck off. And then Epictetus throwing himself forward on the body of Astion, and embracing it tightly, presented his own head also to be cut off; and thus both of them finished their life by a most holy end.

3. Behold, then, two mirrors of brightest polish, in which perfect devotion of human will to the Divine is reflected in a wonderful way. And so let everyone prepare himself, that, whatever hardships he may experience, he may still repeat without ceasing these self-same words,-----"I am a Christian; may the Will of God be done in me! These things seem to me of a truth to be exceedingly hard, and most grievous to bear, but the Will of God be done! I was not, I confess, expecting an event so sad, but the Will of God be done! This man has behaved most unjustly towards me, but may the Will of God be done in me!"

Jehu, who was a most valiant general, wrote a letter and sent it to Samaria to the rulers of the city; but they delayed not to choose ambassadors and send them to Jehu, to say on their behalf,-----"We are thy servants, whatsoever thou shalt command us we will do." (4 Kings X. 5) And how often does Almighty God send a letter to us, and admonish us in various ways, and set before us His Own Will to be followed? And what message should each one of us deliver to be carried back but this,-----"We are Thy servants, whatsoever thou shalt command us we will do."

Elias, the Thesbite, contended with the priests of Baal as to which were the worshippers of the True God; at length they came to an agreement that the side should prevail whose sacrifice was consumed by fire from Heaven. And when these pretended priests had cried aloud for a long time, and yet not the smallest indication of any spark of fire from Baal appeared, Elias ordered every part of his sacrifice to be thoroughly steeped in water, and immediately fire fell from Heaven and burnt up the whole of it. And how much labour and weariness, I pray you, is there on all sides among so many Christians! how much clamour and excitement! They are hot and cold by turns; they run and struggle; they spare no pains, and yet, for the most part, the fire is wanting, that is to say, true devotion to the Divine Will! Rarely and coldly do we pray,-----"Thy Will be done, O Lord!" And so it happens that we very often both cry aloud and sacrifice, but to no purpose, since we have no care for that most noble of all sacrifices,-----the oblation of our
own will.

Once upon a time two persons asked S. Macarius to teach them how to pray. He replied,-----"There is no need here of a great flow of words. The hands must very often be spread out towards God, and you must cry,-----'O Lord my God, as Thou wilIest, and as it seems good to Thee, so be it done,' since He knows what is for our good." An excellent way of praying!

Pachomius also used constantly to pray that the Will of God might be fulfilled in all things.

Alphonsus Salmeron relates that there was once a man who, instead of a prayer, repeated the whole alphabet letter by letter, especially when harassed by some perplexing difficulty; and added to it this clause:-----"Do Thou, O Lord, join the letters together, and bestow that which is most pleasing to Thee and best for me!"

This agreement, then, of the human will with the Divine is, of all things which anyone can offer to God, the greatest and most acceptable sacrifice and holocaust. For in all other cases a man offers His goods merely, but in this, himself. In other cases he offers himself only in part; but in this case he gives his entire self in such a manner as that the Divine Will should dispose of him and his in any way, and at any time, that it sees fit, no reservation or exception being made for himself even in the smallest particular. And, therefore, as much as the part differs from the whole, so does this sacrifice differ from all others.