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 Five: What Things Chiefly Strengthen the Perversity of One's Own Will

AMONGST those grievous sins with which our Lord upbraids the city of Jerusalem is this,-----"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not." (Matt. XXIII. 37) See the obstinacy of man's own will-----the origin of all sins! I willed, says God, but you willed not.

The Abbot Pastor used to say (Doroth. Serm. 5)
-----"Our own will is an iron wall, shutting us out, and separating us from God. 'And thou wouldest not.' Hence those tears!" And in the same way S. Augustine says (Cont. VIII. 5)-----"I sighed, being bound, not with the iron of others, but with my own iron will. My 'TO WILL' was holding me like an enemy, and had forged a chain for me, and had bound me."

But the three following things wonderfully strengthen one's own will.

1. Evil custom. S. Augustine (Conf. VIII. 5, 11) explains this when he says,-----"From a perverse will, in sooth, lust is formed, and while obedience is yielded to lust, custom is formed; and when no resistance is offered to custom, necessity is formed; and by means of these links, woven one into the other (whence I called them a 'chain') a hard slavery held me fast bound. But the new will which had begun to arise in me, that I might worship Thee freely, a my God, and desire to enjoy Thee, was not as yet capable of overcoming that former will, which had become so strong by habit. And so my two wills, one the old, and the other the new, the former carnal, the latter spiritual, were at war between themselves, and by their discord caused distraction to my mind; and the worse will, which was habitual to me, had more power over me than the better, to which I was not accustomed."

And so, when faults turn into habits, no further room is left for remedy. For this is the characteristic of all sins, that, unless they are ejected as soon as possible, they are seldom, and only with difficulty, expelled when they have acquired strength. S. Gregory (Mar. IV. 25) says with truth,-----"When a sin has become habitual, the soul resists it the more feebly, even if it desire to do so, because it is fastened to the mind by as many chains, as it is bound by the recurrence of evil habit." It is easy to restrain those who are of tender years, but hard those who have grown old in a habit. "Woe to the pot whose rust is in it, and its rust is not gone out of it!" (Ezech. XXIV. 6) "Over hard, indeed, and undesirable does sinful habit make the way of virtue." (S. JEROME.. Ep. 14 ad celant.) Most truly also does S. Chrysostom say (Hom. VII. in 1 Cor.),-----"There is nothing so firmly established among human things as the tyranny of an inveterate habit." And so S. Augustine (Serm. XIV. de Verb Dom.) admonishes us, and says,-----"Let the sinner revive as soon as possible; let him not descend into the depth of the sepulchre; let him not lay above himself the weight of habit."

Once upon a time Plato severely rebuked a young man who was playing with dice; whereupon the youth said sharply to his rebuker,-----"What trifling things you find fault with!" But Plato immediately replied,-----"That is not trifling which has become a habit."

When the Cretans wish to use the most withering form of cursing, against those whom they violently hate, they pray that they may take pleasure in evil custom; and so, by a kind of wish which does not sound intemperate, they find a most effectual way of gratifying their revenge. For fruitlessly to desire something, and continually to dwell on the thought of it, is a kind of pleasure which is but one step removed from destruction.

2. The second thing which exceedingly strengthens one's own will is want of patience. Such is our impetuosity, for the most part, that, when we do not obtain what we want at a particular time, we are at once driven to impatience, and sometimes even to madness. Yes, such we are; utterly impatient of delay! How often may one hear a man who is destitute of patience say,-----"I wish to have it now; I want it instantly; I cannot wait; I cannot endure to be put off; unless it is done immediately, I shall be in despair." And so Saul, the king of Israel, could not wait for Samuel, even for the one or two short hours which remained; and therefore his foolish act was charged upon him in the presence of all the people. (I Kings XIII. 13) And in the same way it very often happens with ourselves in our dealings with God, that, if we do not at once obtain that which we wish to have, we fall from our resolution, and give way to sorrow and lamentation. Our prayers are very often like that request of the dancing girl:-----"I will that forthwith thou give me." (Mark VI. 25) And thus we often so far exhaust all hope and patience as to rush headlong into impatience and despair. "Be of good comfort, my children, cry to the Lord, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the princes your enemies." (Baruch IV. 21)

It is a mark of great virtue not to wish that your desires should be granted at once. Unwearying patience is of the greatest power, for it can bring into leaf and flower even that barrenest of trees, which has been tended for three whole years. Hence the following counsel of the Son of Sirach:-----"Endure: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. Behold the generations of men: and know ye that no one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded. For who hath continued in His commandment, and hath been forsaken? Woe to them that have lost patience. And what will they do, when the Lord shall begin to examine? They that fear the Lord, will prepare their hearts, and in His sight will sanctify their souls." (Ecclus. II. 2 and foll.) But man's own will ever strives in a contrary direction, and imperiously demands what it desires, in this way:-----"Give me at once; let it be done forthwith; immediately grant it; let there be no delay; and let there be an end to all hesitation." And therefore we stand in constant need of the caution,-----"Wait, till we see what end the thing will have." (Ruth III, 18) "If it make any delay wait for it, for it shall surely come, and it shall not be slack." (Hab. II. 3)

While our Lord was hanging on the Cross His enemies urged Him in various ways that He might not will to see the end of His sufferings. "If Thou be the Son of God," they say, "come down from the Cross." (Matt. XXVII. 40) And well does S. Chrysostom reply,-----"On this account He came not down from the Cross, because He was the Son of God. The patience of Christ was waiting till it might be permitted to Him to say,-----'IT IS CONSUMMATED.' And that which we see done in the Head we must imitate in the members also. The Will of the Father must be obeyed, even to our latest breath."

And here Ludovicus Blosius speaks so beautifully that I would fain quote what he says in his own words:-----"Happy, therefore, is the man," he exclaims, "who, when suffering under trouble and pain, does not seek for a way of escape, but endures them to the end, and to the very last extremity, not even wishing to come down from the Cross, unless God shall release him, and take him down. Happy indeed is he who so descends into the abyss of the Divine Good-Pleasure, and so resigns himself to the terrible and secret Judgments of God, as to be ready to remain in pains and afflictions of this sort, not merely for a single week, or a single month, but to the Day of Judgment, or even for eternity; not refusing to undergo the torments of hell itself, if God so will. And this kind of resignation, in truth, far surpasses every other kind. In comparison with this it is nothing to give up even a thousand worlds."

3. The third thing whereby one's own will acquires undue strength is perpetual fickleness. It is not enough to go round with the Moon, and to assume first one appearance, and then another; but we change every day, and every hour. One thing pleases us in the morning, and another in the evening. Today we will; tomorrow we will not. We are never the same, and are inconsistent with ourselves, so wisely do we wander in different paths. Every day we change our plans and wishes. Like clouds we are driven hither and thither by any wind that blows. And this is one of the most common characteristics of our own will that, when it refuses to be bound to that firmest of pillars-----the Divine Will-----it surrenders itself in vain and transitory things, with which it cannot help undergoing many a change. And through this instability of our own will, which is of such magnitude, we desire indeed to resist our daily vexations; and yet by this very means we often create for ourselves vexation out of vexation, whilst we so anxiously strive to avoid it. Thus it is that we roll the stone of Sisyphus, and fill the pitcher of the Danaides, while we will and will not the same thing, oftentimes in the same hour. Our will, and that which depends upon it, all our saintliness of character, is not an impregnable tower built on the summit of a mountain, or planted on a lofty rock, but a house of mud, which gives way and collapses before every attack. Granted that you are upright, that you begin this or that business well, that you manage this or that affair admirably-----and I would not deny it-----but how long, and how constantly will you do this? Alas! how easily do we change at the whispering of every wind, and are often cast down in a disgraceful way! We are, in truth, manifold in form, and are at times utterly unlike ourselves; neither do we play the part of one man, but of many.

Free-will, therefore, makes us our own; an evil will makes us the Devil's, a good will God's. "For they," says S. Bernard (De Grat. et Lib. Arbit.), "who wish to be their own, that like gods they may know good and evil, become not merely their own, but the Devil's. It is our own will, in truth, which makes us the slaves of the Devil, and not his power. But our will will not be perfect until it is brought into entire subjection to its Creator. Assuredly it is better for us not to exist at all than to remain our own." S. Augustine says that the young of eagles go through the following kind of ordeal:-----they are suspended in the talons of the male bird, and are then exposed to the full rays of the sun. The one who looks steadfastly at the sun is acknowledged as a true offspring, while the one who is unsteady in his gaze is allowed to fall. And we vile men of earth are more truly under the power of the will of God than the eaglets are in the talons of their parent. We depend on God more than a ray does on the sun, or heat on fire. God has more power over us than the potter has over the clay, and yet from this Sun of ours-----the Divine Will-----we willfully turn away. Are we bidden to forgive an enemy? We refuse to do so. Or, to restrain our unbridled lust? We are just as unwilling. To subdue our impotent rage? And this, too, we are unwilling to attempt. To abstain from this or that evil habit? We are very slow, indeed, in wishing to do it; or, in other words, we quietly refuse to do it. a progeny, not of eagles, but of owls, who follow not the Sun of the Divine Will, but the darkness of their own will! But hence springs every kind of evil, and every kind of punishment.

Ludovicus Blosius relates that our Lord once revealed himself to a certain holy. Virgin, and said,-----"I desire that you should know that almost all the punishments by which men are afflicted in the world consist in their own will; for if the will were duly ordered and conformed to My Will, it would be free from punishment. For although the man who is endowed with this holy and well-ordered will may feel toil and pain, yet, whatever he willingly suffers for love of Me, he endures without punishment as it were; for he bears it with entire readiness, considering and knowing that it is My Will and Permission that he should suffer. In every bodily suffering his mind is free, since his will is in all things conformed to, and united with Mine. And so, when his own will has been laid aside, the soul of that man is tranquil and rejoices in peace."