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 Three: In What Way Man's Own Will is to be Brought into Subjection to the Divine in All Kinds of Adversity

THE will neither of an Angel nor a man can be good, unless it is in union with the Divine Will; but the greater the harmony is, the better and more perfect it will be; and the less it is, so much the worse and more miserable. The sole Will of God is the measure and rule of all wills in Heaven and earth; nor can any will ever be called right, unless it is directed according to this standard.

1. When the Psalmist so frequently praises the right in heart, S. Augustine very learnedly, and very appositely to our present subject, explains this rectitude of heart, and says (In Ps. XXXII. Exp. 2, 1),
-----"Ye see how many dispute against God, how many are displeased with His works. For when He would do contrary to the will of men, because He is the Lord, and knoweth what He doth, and regardeth not so much our will as our benefit; they who would have rather their own will to be fulfilled than God's, would bend God to their will, not make right their will unto God. 'Praise,' saith he, 'becometh the upright.' Who are the upright? They who direct their heart according to the Will of God, and whom, if human frailty disturb them, Divine Justice consoleth. For, although in their mortal heart they may privately wish something which may suit their own immediate case or interest, or their present necessity, yet when they have under- stood and learned that God willeth otherwise, they prefer the Will of the Better to their own will, the Will of the Omnipotent to the will of the weak, the Will of God to the will of man; for, far as God differs from man, so far the Will of God from the will of man. To have a proper will, it is difficult that this' should not happen to thee: but think straightway Who is above thee; think of Him above thee, thyself below Him; Him the Creator, thyself the creature; Him the Lord, thyself the servant; Him Omnipotent, thyself weak; correcting thyself, submitting to His Will, and saying,-----'Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.' "Wherein art thou severed from God who now willest that which God willeth? Then shalt thou be upright, and praise shall become thee, for praise becometh the upright; but if thou art crooked, thou praisest God when it is well with thee, blasphemest when it is ill. Which ill, indeed, if it be just, is not ill; but just it is, since it is done by Him Who can do nothing unjust. And so thou wilt be a foolish boy in the house of thy Father, loving thy Father if he fondle thee, and hating Him when He scourgeth thee, as if He were not, both when fondling and when scourging, preparing for thee the inheritance. But see how praise becometh the upright. Hear the voice of the upright praising from another Psalm (Ps. XXXIII. 2):-----'I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be always in my mouth.' What is 'at all times?' That is always. And what is 'I will bless?' That is, 'His praise shall be in my mouth.' At all times and always, whether in prosperity, or in adversity; for if in prosperity, and not in adversity, how at all times? How always? And we have heard many such words from many. When any good fortune befalls them they exult, they rejoice, they sing to God, they praise God; nor are they to be disapproved, nay, we must rejoice in them; for many praise Him not even then. But they who have now begun to praise God, on account of their prosperity, must be taught to acknowledge their Father also when scourging them, and not to murmur against His Hand when He corrects them, lest, remaining ever perverse, they deserve to be disinherited; so that being now made upright (what is upright? so that nothing which God doth displease them), they may be able to praise God even in adversity, and to say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done; blessed be the Name of the Lord.' To such upright, praise is becoming, not to them that will first praise, and afterwards blame. Learn to give thanks unto God both in prosperity and in tribulation. Learn to have in thy heart what every man hath on his tongue:-----The Will of God be done. The common speech of the people is mostly saving doctrine. Who saith not daily,-----What God 'Willeth that let Him do?"

2. This beautiful dissertation of S. Augustine in a wonderful way both explains and confirms the entire doctrine concerning the Divine Will, which, on this account, should have the greater claim on our attention, since the holiest and wisest of men have ever desired that it should be understood as thoroughly as possible by all, more particularly since the entire Christian life hinges on it. But I cannot yet leave Augustine, that clearest of writers, whose words are quite worthy of being quoted as they stand. This saintly Bishop of Hippo, then, points out in the following words (In Ps. XXXVI. 16) in what way, even in adversity, we must not depart a hair's breadth from the Divine Will:
-----"As I have said, those are OF A RIGHT HEART who follow in this life the Will of God. The Will of God is sometimes that thou shouldest be whole, sometimes that thou shouldest be sick. If when thou art whole God's Will be sweet, and when thou art sick God's Will be bitter; thou art not of a right heart. Wherefore? Because thou wilt not make right thy will according to God's Will, but wilt bend God's Will to thine. That is right, but thou art crooked; thy will must be made right to That, not That made crooked to thee; and thou wilt have a right heart. Is it well with thee in this world? God be blessed Who comforteth thee. Doth it go hardly with thee? God be blessed, because He chasteneth and proveth thee; and so wilt thou be of a right heart, saying,-----'I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be always in my mouth.' "

And not only did S. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, teach this doctrine, but David also, the King of Israel, in a remarkable way, both by precept and example. For when he was flying from his rebellious son Absalom, and the priests had taken up the Ark of the Covenant as a defence in their flight, he ordered it to be carried back into the city, and said,
-----"If I shall find grace in the sight of the Lord, He will bring me again, and He will shew me it, and His tabernacle. But if He shall say to me: 'Thou pleasest me not:' I am ready, let Him do that which is good before Him." (2 Kings xv. 25, 26) See how that once powerful king was self-conscious and composed even in his miserable flight, and extremity of trouble, and with what earnest gaze he looked towards the Divine Will! "I shall return," he says, "if it pleases God; but if He thus say, thou pleasest Me not, let Him do that which is good before Him."

If, Christian friends, we were as willing to embrace this doctrine with our understanding and reason, as we easily might, there would scarcely be any further difficulty in enduring misfortunes; nor would any evil of such huge proportions press upon us, but we might bear it calmly and readily. Our Lord, before His Passion, spoke words in the Garden of Gethsemani about the Will of His Father and His Own, which prove that there is nothing which more completely nerves the soul to endure calamities of any kind than the union of the human will with the Divine. How manifest was this in our Lord Himself! Before His prayer He was fearful, sad, and pale; He trembled at and shrank from the shadow of approaching death. But after His prayer, after so great reverence had been shown to His Father's Will, He exclaimed, as if His strength were renewed,
-----"Rise, let us go." (Matt. XXVI. 46) Let us meet our enemies of our own accord and welcome them: let us make an end of this bloody tragedy! And here also S. Augustine (In Ps. XXXII. Exp. 2, 2) remarks with great beauty:-----"Whereupon Christ having put on Man, and proposing a rule to us, teaching us to live, and granting us to live, showed also man's private will; whereby he figured both His Own and ours, because He is our, Head, and we, as ye know, belong to Him as real members. 'Father,' saith He, 'if it be possible, let this Chalice pass from Me.' This was the human will, wishing something proper to itself, and, as it were, private. But because He willed man to be right in heart, that whatever in him was somewhat crooked, He might make straight to Him Who is ever Right, 'Nevertheless,' saith He, 'not as I will, but as Thou wilt.' He showed, as it were, man's proper will; He showed thee, and corrected thee. Behold, saith He, Thyself in Me; for Thou also canst will something proper to Thyself, though God will otherwise."

3. S. Catherine of Siena says of herself
,-----"Christ has instructed me that I should prepare for myself a secret chamber within myself." And what kind of chamber is that? The union of the human will with the Divine. At the first entrance it seems to be but a narrow dwelling-place; but he who desires to accustom himself to it will find out at length that it is larger than heaven, and more secure even than the best fortified camp; for here no troubles can ever force an entrance. This is an asylum of perfect safety from every calamity. The spirits neither of the upper or lower world are able to harm him who in all things keeps his own will in harmony with the Divine. This is his single law-----As GOD WILLS, SO LET HIM DO. Beautifully does S. Augustine say (In Ps. LXI. 11):-----"There cometh my pain, there will come my rest also; there cometh my tribulation, there will come my cleansing also. For doth gold glitter in the furnace of the refiner? In a necklace it will glitter; in an ornament it will glitter. Let it suffer, however, the furnace, in order that being cleansed from dross it may come into light. This is the furnace, there is the chaff, there gold, there fire; into this bloweth the refiner: in the furnace burneth the chaff, and the gold is cleansed: the one into ashes is turned, of dross the other is cleansed. The furnace is the world, the chaff unjust men, the gold just men; the fire tribulation, the refiner God. That, therefore, which the refiner willeth, I do. Wherever the Maker setteth me, I endure it. I am commanded to endure; He knoweth how to cleanse. Though there burn the chaff to set me on fire, and as if to consume me; that into ashes is burned; I of dross am cleansed. Wherefore? Because to God shall my soul be made subject."

Lo! true subjection of the human will to the Divine is the origin of every blessing. Most rightly did that pious author (Luiz of Granada) say,
-----"There is no greater sacrifice, and none more pleasing to God, than in every tribulation to conform oneself to the Good pleasure of the Divine Will."

And here that illustrious patriarch Abraham is very greatly to be praised; for, in order to make it known to the whole world that he did everything according to the command of the Divine Will, God, as though sometimes changing His Will, exercised him first with one command, then with another, and these to all appearance contradictory, and manifestly severe. But Abraham ever showed himself perfectly obedient to every indication of the Divine Will; and this one thing he endeavoured to do with all his might, to yield his whole self, and all that belonged to him, as cheerfully as possible to the one and only Will of God.

The Jews observe that Abraham was severely tried ten times, as to whether he would constantly will that which God willed. Let me enumerate the different

( I.) He is commanded to leave his country and kindred, and go into a strange land.
(2.) On account of scarcity of corn he is again driven into Egypt as a wanderer.
(3.) In Egypt he runs the risk of his life with Pharao the king: his wife also imperils her chastity, and is parted from her husband.
(4.) On account of the constant quarrels of the servants, he separates from Lot, whom he loved most tenderly as a son.
(S.) In order to deliver Lot, when he had been taken prisoner in war, he arms his servants against the four kings.
(6.) He is constrained, at the earnest desire of Sara, to cast out from his house Agar, his faithful servant and concubine.
(7.) He is commanded to be circumcised when now an old man.
(8.) Abimelech, King of Gerara, takes his wife again.
(9.) A second time he is commanded to drive away from his house Agar, with her son Ismael.
(10.) He is told to slay, with his own hand, his only and most beloved son Isaac, who had been miraculously born, and who had been brought up in hope of fulfilling the promise of a posterity.

What an accumulation of calamities! besides many others, not less bitter, although not so well known. And yet Abraham remained Abraham; that is to say, like himself, and a most constant observer of the Divine Will. He thoroughly understood that the Divine Will was the greatest alleviation of all his miseries.

And here it is to be observed that Mount Moriah, on which it was appointed that Isaac should be offered as a victim to God, has passed into a proverb,
-----"Whereupon even to this day it is said: In the mountain the Lord will see." (Gen. XXII. 14) And this hill "the Lord will see" must be climbed by all who are in affliction. Let all who are in trouble and adversity assure themselves that God from all eternity foresaw all those things which are happening to them, and also decreed that they should be done at the very time in which they are done; and that this same Divine Providence will always be ready to help them and theirs.

4. Let this example teach us, moreover, that deaths and calamities of all kinds are sent from God. For as God sends war upon that province, and pestilence unnn this, so He sends to one man gout, to another disease in the kidneys, and to a third fever; but this war and that pestilence, this gout or disease in the kidneys, or fever, are sent by God and the Divine Will. This is a sure and certain fact. But how is this or that province to conduct itself in reference to the war or pestilence? And how are men to behave in reference to their diseases? Have they the right not to will that which God wills? No, they have not. But is there, then, no opportunity for defence? Only if God allows it. What did Abraham do when about to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah? He looked round and saw a ram caught in a thicket; and he was offered up in place of Isaac. And, in the same way, let the kingdom which is scourged with war, the province infected with pestilence, or the man who is harassed with gout, look round for a lawful remedy, and employ it to avert the war, to remove the pestilence, to al- leviate the gout.

If God wills that the one should be averted, the next removed, and the other mitigated, He will secretly send a ram; that is to say, He will supply the means either of alleviation, or of restoring things to their former condition. But if there is no remedy, or if it is used without success, it is then perfectly clear that God wills that Isaac should be sacrificed, that the kingdom should be devastated by war, that the province should be wasted by the pestilence, and that the man should be tortured by the gout. And the way of reasoning is the same in reference to poverty, and contempt, and all other calamities and miseries. So that when God points out a way of relief, Isaac is set free; but if not, he must be slain. And therefore in all such things let the human will submit itself with perfect resignation to the Divine.

S. Remigius, Bishop of Reims, foresaw that there would be great scarcity of corn the next year; and accordingly he collected a large supply of grain for the support of the people. But some of the very persons for whose benefit the holy man had resolved to do this were men of drunken and reckless habits, who said over their cups,
-----"What is our old Jubilee about? (for he had already been a priest for more than fifty years). What does he intend to do? Is he going to build a new city? What do so many heaps of corn mean? He seems to wish to monopolize the market.  Come and let us lay a trap for the old man, and play off a trick upon him." It was easy enough to stimulate men whose evil feelings were roused, and who were already hurrying on too fast. And so these madmen rushed headlong from the house, and one of them exclaimed, while applying a lighted torch to the measures of corn,-----"Let us see how fast hungry Vulcan will devour Ceres!" This act of wanton daring was soon told to Remigius the Bishop, and he at once mounted his horse, and hastened with all speed to the burning heaps of corn. But when he arrived the flames had already forced their way through the whole of the wheat, and could not be extinguished by any amount of labour. And what could the sorrowful Bishop now do? Should he kill himself with grief, and either give way to wild lamentations, or utter all kinds of curses against the doers of the mischief? He did this,-----he dismounted from his horse, and, be- cause it was winter, he approached as close as he could to the conflagration, as if to warm himself, remarking at the same time,-----"A fire is always pleasant, particularly to an old man." Behold, then, the soul of a perfect man, entirely devoted to the Divine Will, and therefore enjoying supreme tranquillity in every condition of life! He would have wished indeed, as far as lay in his power, to check the fire which had broken out, but because there were no means or possibility of subduing the flames which still continued to spread, he committed what had happened entirely to the Divine Will, and with unruffied brow repeated those words of Job,,-----"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job I. 21)
And in the same way must we act under all other circumstances. When some evil is imminent or already present, and we are not able to check it by lawful means, let us say from the bottom of our soul,
-----"THE WILL OF GOD BE DONE!" Let Isaac be sacrificed, if the ram is not sent in his stead. Let my son be slain, if God so commands. Perish my house, perish my goods, perish everything, if only the Will of
God be done.

5. One who plays upon the harp tightens or loosens the strings until they give the proper sound; and so it is necessary that the man who desires to yield himself entirely to the Will of God should exercise, and keep under, and bind his own will until it is reduced to obedience, and should teach it, moreover, how it conduces to all happiness, if it conforms itself in all things to the Divine Will, as blessed David exclaims,
-----"Shall not my soul be subject to God? for from Him is my salvation." (Ps. LXI. 2) The literal translation of this verse from the Hebrew is,-----"Yet shall my soul keep silence to God, for from Him is my salvation." And this exactly harmonizes with my meaning; for this was the intention of King David,-----"Whatever befalls me, whether it be prosperous or adverse, I still resist not the Divine Will; I do not try to disturb the Ordinances of God. Even if things turn out never so unpropitiously, yet I do not murmur. I keep silence before every Permission of God, being perfectly contented at all times with the Divine disposal of events. Afflictions of all kinds may be mitigated by being borne with calmness."

Whoever, then, imitates this wisest of kings (and it will be easy enough for anyone to do so, if he only desires it) will endure all kinds of adversity and calamity with quiet and unruffled mind. Never will so much as a single word escape him, as if he complained of his troubles being too frequent and too grievous. The Divine Will will be to him an alleviation of all distresses. Nor can he ever be so completely overwhelmed with misery as not to be able to exclaim with that most devout writer (THOMAS
À KEMPIS, l. III. 50):-----"Holy Father, thus hast Thou ordained, and thus hast Thou willed; and this is done as Thou hast commanded. Nothing is done on earth without Thy Counsel and Providence, and without cause. Behold, O beloved Father, I am in Thy Hands; I bend beneath the rod of Thy correction! Strike my back and my neck that I may bend my crookedness TO THY WILL; that I may walk according to all Thy commandments, and may above all things ever seek for the Will of Thy Good-pleasure."

And they who refuse this discipline will always be unhappy, "ever learning, and never attaining to the knowledge of the Truth." (2 Tim. III. 7) But they who centre all their energies in knowing the Will of God, and following it, will endure adversity of all kinds not merely with patience, but with joyfulness and thanksgiving. Well has that illustrious preacher said (John Tauler):
-----"Esteem every day to be lost in which you have not, for the love of God, broken your own will."