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 Four: 

Chapter Two: To What Destruction Man's Own Will Draws Him,
If It Does Not Allow Itself to be Broken

1. ONCE upon a time some of the dregs of society, and a large gang of thieves, night-prowlers, and burglars, presented a petition to the judges, praying them to do away with gibbets, so that some regard might be shown to the eyes and noses of passers-by.

The judges replied that, if they desired the practice of hanging to be done away with, they must themselves first of all put a stop to the habit of stealing, and that they, for their part, would not hesitate to remove crosses and gibbets if their petitioners would first put an end to felonies. Upon this, one of the thieves more daring than the rest replied,-----"Venerable sirs, we are not the originators of felonies. That, therefore, which we did not introduce we cannot do away with." To which the judges answered,-----"Neither did we invent gibbets, good sirs, and therefore we will not abolish them."

The first parents of the human race were detected in an act of wrong. This is the origin of all acts of wickedness; hence arises the contagion of sin, and hence, too, the punishment of Hell. And we who are distant descendants of this race of thieves complain that Hell is ordained for us, and therefore we often present petitions to God, and ask,-----"Only, O Lord, cast us not down into the outer darkness! If Thou, O Lord, wouldest destroy the flames of Hell, Thou wouldest immediately deliver us from fear." But God replies most justly,-----"You, on your part, remove your guilt, and I, on My part, will extinguish the fire of Hell. Let your sins come to an end, and the fierceness of these flames shall be mitigated." But we continue,-----"Nay, but, O Lord, we are not the originators of wickedness, and why do we suffer for the fault of others, and for that which is born with us! This is Original Sin." But again God answers,-----"Neither am I the cause of Hell, but pride and disobedience are. Nor was it the original design of Hell to torment men, but devils, for Hell-fire is 'prepared for the devil and his Angels.' (Matt. xxv. 41) You cannot, therefore, complain that you are involved in the evils of others."

<>S. Bernard, illustrious among the faithful servants of God, long ago proclaimed, in words as few as they are clear, in what way the fire of Hell may very easily be extinguished. These are his words (Serm. 3, de Resur. Dam.):-----"Let there be an end of your own will, and there will be no such thing as Hell!' And he assigns the following forcible reason:-----"For what does God hate or punish but one's own will? Against what will Hell-fire rage, but against one's own will? Even now, when we suffer from cold or hunger, or any such thing, what is injured but our own will? But, if we voluntarily endure these things, there is then a community of will established (that is to say, between God Who sends such things, and man who endures them). Moreover, with what fury one's own will fights against the Lord of all Might let those who are the slaves of their own will hear and tremble. For, in the first place, when it becomes its own master, it withdraws and separates itself from the Government of Him Whom, as its Author, it is bound by right to serve. But will it be content with this act of injustice? By no means. It adds another still, and, as far as lies in its power, seizes and plucks away by force everything which belongs to God. For what limit does human cupidity propose to itself? Would not the man who gains a trifling sum by lending his money at interest, try in the same way to gain the whole world, if it were not utterly impossible, and if his capacity only equalled his inclination? I affirm, with confidence, that the entire world would not be enough to satisfy a man who is guided by his own will; but how I wish that he would be contented even with that, and would not (horrible to speak of!) vent his rage against the very Author of all things! Thus he becomes like some cruel animal, the fiercest of wild beasts, the most ravenous of she-wolves, the most savage of lionesses. This is the most loathsome leprosy of soul, on account of which he ought to wash himself in the Jordan, and follow the example of Him Who came not to do His Own Will. Whence also, during His Passion, He exclaimed,-----"Not my will, but Thine, be done." "Let one's own will come to an end, and there will be no Hell!" It is not, therefore, a childish and idle question,-----"Can the flames of Hell be extinguished, and in what way?" They certainly can. They are not vain prayers to ask God to destroy Hell. He is ready to do it. He demands but this one thing as the reward for His labour,-----"Let man's own will come to an end, and there will be no Hell!" But who can so far stimulate all men as that each should surrender his own will, and cause it to rest entirely on the Divine? Do you, my friend, if you are in earnest, do you master your own will, and you have at once removed that place to which you would otherwise have been bound, and where you would have been tormented in Hell, just as much as if Hell itself were destroyed, and its flames were extinguished. "Let one's own will come to an end, and there will be no Hell!' "The eye," says one, "is the door and messenger of the heart. Close the eye, and there will be no desire of having. Let the will come to an end, and, lo! Hell is closed!"

2. How many there are, alas! who endure manifold and great sufferings, but against their own will, and in a spirit of resistance; for they do not surrender their own will to the Divine. God wills that they should suffer, and most clearly declares this to be His Will, when He sends their sufferings upon them; and this with just as much certainty as if a voice were to come from Heaven and say,
-----"I will that you should suffer." But even thus they would not be willing to suffer; and, if they could only have done so, would long since have thrown off the burden which they bear. Behold, then, man's own will entirely wanting in conformity to the Divine!

Parents know what a work of labour it is to educate those children in whom willfulness is not early crushed. How many times must they cry out every day,
-----"Hold your tongue; be quiet; attend to this; leave that alone." Sometimes they are so restless, and make such a disturbance in the house, that even a mother of the greatest gentleness becomes angry; and, seizing a stick, or anything else that she finds in her anger, vents her rage first on one, then on another, and upon whichever child happens to be nearest. Sometimes she shows her rage in words only; and cries out,-----"You are no children of mine! I do not own you; I see nothing that belongs to me in you: you do not take after the disposition either of your father or mother. Away with you, you good-for-nothings!" And God deals with us in the same way as parents treat their restless and willful children. How often does he threaten a drunkard or a lustful man? How often does He set before the one, by means of silent accusations, his drunkenness, and before the other his wanton life? How often does he dissuade: from such vices, and say,-----"See how you are injuring your body and soul! You are exhausting your pocket and strength; you are forfeiting My grace and Heaven. You know, indeed, that such things are forbidden by Me. You know that it is My Will that you should utterly shrink from all such vileness as this; nor are you ignorant how thoroughly I abominate and detest a will which struggles thus against Mine." At last the most gentle Father seizes a rod, and punishes the wickedness of His child in such a way that he may feel that he is being punished. But when this has many times been done, and the child does not effectually amend, or abandon his vicious habits, then at length the Father becomes angry, and says,-----"Why should I smite you any more? In vain have I smitten My children, for they refused to receive correction." "But the multiplied brood of the wicked shall not thrive, and bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor any fast foundation." (Wisdom IV. 3) Depart, ye wicked ones; I will let you go according to the desires of your heart, and let you walk in your own inventions. (Ps. LXXX. 13) And this is the most grievous form of the Father's anger, and more to be dreaded than any punishment.

And in the same way God deals with a proud and arrogant man, and rebukes him thus:
-----"You please neither Me, nor men; although, despising Me, you very greatly desire to please them. You are laughed at by the very persons who you hoped would approve of your arrogance. You long ago knew My Will.

You know that I cannot endure anyone who is proud, no, not even an Angel; and much less, therefore, a man. Who knows not that I resist the proud in a singular way? And yet you persevere in your haughtiness!" And in the same way, God, by His secret impulses, draws on to amendment the covetous man, the angry, the jealous, and the slanderer, and in various ways sets forth His Will for them to follow. God leads each by the way which is best adapted to him. It was said before the face of Saul, the king of Israel,
-----"When thou wast a little one in thy own eyes, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed thee to be king over Israel. Why then didst thou not hearken to the voice of the Lord: but hast turned to the prey, and hast done evil in the eyes of the Lord. Forasmuch therefore as thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord hath also rejected thee from being king." (I Kings xv. 17, 19, 23)

Whoever, therefore, you are who still resist the Divine Will, come, I pray, come, and I will take you not to the school of eagles, but to that of ravens, and receive, I pray you, a lesson from them.

3. Why, I would ask, did God will that Elias the Thesbite should receive his food from ravens, who became, as it were, the ministers to his wants? What is the meaning of this? The most thievish of birds carry dinner and supper to one who lives in the desert, with faithful and ready obedience. God, then, willed this, my good friend, in order to teach you how even dumb creatures, in spite of their natural propensities, obey His Will. What is more wonderful than that meat should be carried by a raven, who is exceedingly greedy of flesh, and most rapacious at the same time, although he might have devoured it a hundred times over as he went if the Will of God had not ordered otherwise? But some one may object here
,-----It is easy enough for God to compel any animal to do His bidding. They do not, however, obey because they are willing, but because they are bound to do so. It is as you say, and even on this ground it would be right that you should be perfectly obedient to the Divine Will, because God does not drive you on with compulsory commands, but with voluntary. He wills that you should serve Him with a free service, and should, therefore, obtain the greater reward.

But let us turn aside, I pray, from the school of the ravens into the cave of the winds, where even their fury is subservient to command. Our Lord "commanded the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying, What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey Him!" (Matt. VIII. 26, 27) Did not the very rocks mourn over the sorrowful spectacle of our dying Lord, testifying their grief by rents, which had never been seen before? (Matt. XXVII. 51) Man alone becomes petrified into a rock, and too often persists in that willful course which he has commenced. "The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, WHO CAN KNOW IT?" (Jer. XVII. 9) Yea, WHO CAN KNOW IT? Once begin to examine this whirlpool, and you will discover there the most hidden thoughts, which strive against God with such secret murmurings as
,-----''Dost Thou will, a Lord, that I should love my enemies? That I should submit myself to all?

That I should renounce my pleasures? It is a hard command, and my will inclines me otherwise. What, then, shall I do? I will use a little dissimulation, and will not strive against my own will over-strongly; neither will I obey Thine over-much." O inscrutable and wicked heart of man!

A story is told of M. Aurelius Manus how that one day he was made emperor, held the reins of government for the next, and on the third was slain by a common soldier, who, as he plunged his sword into his breast, exclaimed,
-----"This is a sword which you yourself have made;" for Marius had risen from a blacksmith's forge to the imperial crown. And in the same way the man who resists the Divine Will very justly hears the taunt,-----"This is the sword which you yourself have made. You stab yourself with your own weapon, that is to say, WITH YOUR OWN WILL." There is a reason underneath, says Cresarius, why the will is so prone to sin; for the Devil has two agents more wicked even than himself,-----the Flesh and the World,-----and by these the will is urged on. The Flesh lusts, the Devil inflames lust, and the World interposes itself, so that when lusts are kindled they may not be extinguished. Many are the sins which spring from the Flesh. Manifold are the baits which the World presents. Numberless are the wiles which the Devil employs. And so that is fulfilled which was formerly shown to Jeremias the prophet,-----"Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Juda, and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women 'knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to offer libations to strange gods, and to provoke me to anger." (Jer. VII. 17, 18) And for whom are these cakes kneaded? For the queen of heaven, or the moon; for the sun is the king of heaven; and the human will is very like the moon, for it delights in continual changes. In honour of this queen cakes are made. The Flesh, like a loving child, supplies faggots of wood, that is to say, lusts; and the Devil, the father of pride, stirs the fire. Vanity, its mother, presents a lump composed of various ingredients; she heaps in snares, beguiling words, soft invitations to sin and pleasures; and so a delicious cake is made, and a noble sacrifice is prepared,-----not for God, but for one's own will.

4. S. Augustine, in his exposition of the hundredth Psalm, most beautifully sets before us this perverseness of the human will as follows:
-----"The heart of a man who wisheth not anything contrary to anything that God wisheth is called straight. Attend. Some one prayeth that something may not happen; he prayeth, and it is not hindered. Let him ask as much as he can; but something happeneth contrary to his own will; let him submit himself to the Will of God, let him not resist the Great Will. For our Lord Himself thus explaineth it, showing our weakness in Himself, when He was about to suffer, saying,-----'My Soul is sorrowful even unto death.' But what were those words save the sound of our weakness? Many as yet weak are saddened by coming death; but let them have a straight heart; let them avoid death as far as they can; but if they cannot, let them say what our Lord Himself said, not on His Own account, but on ours. For what said He?-----'O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.' Behold; thou hast the human will expressed; now see the righteous heart-----'Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou, Father, wilt.' If, therefore, the righteous heart followeth God, the crooked heart resisteth God. Suppose something untoward happeneth to him, he crieth out,-----'God, what have I done unto Thee? What sin have I committed?' He wisheth himself to appear just; God unjust. What is so crooked as this? It is not enough that thou art crooked thyself; thou must think thy rule crooked also. Reform thyself, and thou findest Him straight in departing from Whom thou hast made thyself crooked. He doeth justly, thou unjustly; and for this reason thou art perverse, since thou callest man just, and God unjust. What man dost thou call just? Thyself. For when thou sayest-----'What have I done unto Thee?' thou thinkest thyself just. But let God answer thee,-----'Thou speakest truth; thou hast done nothing to Me; thou hast done all things unto thyself; for if thou hadst done anything for Me, thou wouldest have done good; for whatever is done well is done unto Me, because it is done according to My commandment. But whatever of evil is done, is done unto thee, not Me; for the wicked man doth nothing except for his own sake, since it is not what I command.'" And the same most holy bishop (In Ps. CXXIV. 2) speaks again of this perversity of will as follows,-----" 'Therefore God is good unto Israel.' But unto whom? 'Even unto such as are of a clean heart.' Who are of a clean heart? They who do not censure God; who direct their own will by the Will of God, and do not endeavour to bend the Will of God into conformity with their own will. It is a short commandment, that man make straight his heart. Dost thou wish to have thy heart straight? Do thou do what God willeth; do not wish God to do that which thou dost will: They who are right in heart, and who follow the Will of God, not their own will, reflect upon this. But they who wish to follow God, allow Him to go before, and themselves to follow; not themselves to go before, and Him to follow. And in all things they find Him good, whether chastening, or consoling, or exercising, or crowning, or cleansing, or enlightening, as the Apostle saith,-----'We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good.'" (Rom. VIII. 28)

And worthy offspring of the eagle are such as these, who, with steadfast eye, gaze upon the sun, and who earnestly incline their own will to the Divine! But far different is it with those who often dispute with God. At one time the severity of the weather displeases them; at another, a storm of rain. Sometimes they complain that it is too cold; at other times, that it is too hot. One while God does not give them enough for their wants; at another time He permits this or that wicked man to be exalted; while at another He does not punish their enemies, as it seems to them that they deserve to be punished. Thus, they are perpetually making excuses, and are constantly full of complaints. God does nothing of which they entirely approve. This is that crooked heart; this is that will of one's own, about which S. Bernard must also be heard after S. Augustine.

5. "One's own will," says S. Bernard (Serm. 71, in Cant.), "is a great evil'; for by this it comes to pass that your blessings are no blessings to you, because He Who feeds among the lilies will taste nothing at all which is polluted by contact with one's own will." And in another place (Serm. 2, de Resur. Dom.):
-----"But all such evils of a similar and dissimilar kind spring from the single root of one's own will; for this has two blood-thirsty, insatiable daughters, who cry out, 'Give us more, give us more;' since never is the soul satiated with vanity, nor the body with pleasure, as it is written (Eccles. I. 8)-----'The eye is not filled with seeing, neither is the ear filled with hearing.' Fly this blood-thirsty one, and you have forsaken all, for she draws all things to herself! Throw her down, and how manifold a yoke have you cast away! Man's own will, subverting the heart, and closing the eyes of reason, is an unquiet evil, which, ever pressing on the spirit, devises things which should not be thought of." And again (Serm. Quomodo Voluntas nostra, etc.):-----"Whence come offenses, whence arises confusion, but that we follow our own will, and rashly determine in  our heart what we wish; but in case our purpose happens to be frustrated or hindered, we are immediately ready to give way to impatience, and murmuring, and offense, not reflecting that all things work together for good to those who are called to be Saints according to God's purpose, and that that which seems to us to be chance is the Voice of God pointing out to us His Will." And once more (De Dupl. Bapt.):-----"Let us beware of our own will, therefore, as we should of a most poisonous and mischievous viper, which is able by itself to destroy our souls."

John the Abbot, when he was very near death, was asked, as Cassian testifies (Instit. V. 28), by those who stood round his bed, to give them some short piece of advice as a parting bequest. Whereupon he said, with a sigh,
-----"I never did my own will, and never taught anyone to do what I had not first done myself." But there are few such men as this now-a-days; scarcely one out of a hundred thousand. But countless is the number of those who, when dying, might rather say,-----"As far as I was able, I have lived for my own gratification. I have yielded myself entirely to my own will. I have taught much, and given many precepts which I myself have not performed." That most excellent old man, Pimenius, replied to one who asked him in what way devils fought against us,-----"Devils do not fight much with us, because we do their wills; but our wills become devils to us, and harass us. And this is illustrated by the following apologue:-----The trees on Mount Lebanon conversed together, and said, 'How large and high we are, and yet we are cut down by a small piece of iron; and, what is worse, the weapons with which the mischief is done to us are taken from ourselves; for, to enable the iron axe-head to wound us, it receives its handle from ourselves.' And such a tree is man. The instigation of the devil is the iron, and the human will is the handle."

And how much better preacher was Job on the dunghill than Adam in Paradise! "As it hath pleased' the Lord, so is it done," said the former. "I heard Thy Voice, and hid myself," said the latter.