Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away
. . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
HOW small is the knowledge which we wretched mortals have of God! Scarcely through a crevice even do we derive any Divine light. This much, indeed, we know, that God is the Supreme Good, and is so boundlessly supreme that we may not lawfully seek or wish for anything which we are not able to obtain from this so great Good. In His time we shall certainly obtain all we desire, only let us not meanwhile fail in courage, but standing firm, with perfect Trust in God, let us believe that,-----"It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God." [Lam. III. 26] The Lord is good to those who hope in Him, and to the soul which seeks Him. But wherein this Trust in God chiefly consists we will now proceed to examine.
1. Trust is superior to hope in this way, that it is not hope of every kind, but that which is of the greatest vigour and perfection. Seneca [Ep. 16] well observes this distinction when he says, -----"I have hope of you, but not trust as yet." Now it is necessary that this Trust in God should embrace all human actions, for under all circumstances, great and small alike, and in all the affairs of life, we must trust in God with the utmost sincerity, believing that He will never fail those that put their trust in Him.
King David founded a school, and "commanded that they should teach the children of Juda the use of the bow, as it is written in the book of the just" [2 Kings I. 18]; and in this art Jonathan, the king's son, greatly excelled, for so sure a marksman was he that he received this commendation from his beloved friend David, -----"The arrow of Jonathan never turned back," [2 Kings I. 22] for his arrows were wont not to strike lightly, or merely graze the surface, but to pierce through the armour of his enemies. And such a bow is Trust in God; it both hits and pierces the Heart of God with its arrows that never miss their mark. But of all the kings of Israel and Juda [there were thirty-nine in all] how many were able to use this bow? Three or four only out of the whole number; David, Ezekias, Josias, with whom Josaphat also might be reckoned, since he abolished the sacrifices in the high places. The heart of these kings was certainly perfect with God, and ever full to overflowing with entire Trust in Him.
When a vast army of Moabites and Ammonites was threatening King Josaphat, and he was utterly inferior in numbers to the enemy, with sure Trust he "betook himself wholly to pray to the Lord" [2 Par. XX. 3] and when he had prayed at great length, he added to his prayer this most excellent clause, "but as we know not what to do, we can only turn our eyes to Thee." [Ver. 12] "And Jahaziel was there, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came in the midst of the multitude, and he said: Attend ye, all Juda, and you that dwell in Jerusalem, and thou King Josaphat: Thus saith the Lord to you: Fear ye not, and be not dismayed at this multitude: for the battle is not yours, but God's. It shall not be you that shall fight, but only stand with confidence, and you shall see the help of the Lord over you, O Juda, and Jerusalem: fear ye not, nor be you dismayed: tomorrow you shall go out against them, and the Lord will be with you." [Ver. 14, 15, 17] Josaphat was greatly encouraged by these words, and led his army against the enemy; but, lest his soldiers should be afraid to engage so vast a host, like a careful general he fortified their courage and said, -----"Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be secure: believe His prophets, and all things shall succeed well." [Ver. 20] And then, unlike what is usually done in battles, "he appointed the singing men of the Lord, to praise him by their companies, and to go before the army, and with one voice to say: Give glory to the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever." [Ver. 21] Behold, the King advancing with his army to battle, like a Bishop with his Priests going into the temple! It is an unheard-of thing in war, and one which would move ridicule, to post a band of singers, who cannot fight, in the van of the army. But God was with Josaphat, who was engaging in the battle with so sure a Trust in Him. And when they had begun, not indeed the soldiers to cast their darts, but the singers to sing psalms, the enemy turned one upon the other, and "they destroyed one another." [Ver. 23] And as the army of Josaphat advanced they found the whole plain strewed with dead bodies, nor had one escaped. And in this great slaughter spoils were found so precious and abundant that not even three days sufficed for carrying them away. Behold, then, what power sincere Trust in God has! It can effect anything, and is invincible.
2. And although in all actions, as I have said, Trust in God is needful, yet specially is it so when either prayers are to be offered, or adversity is to be endured.
S. Bernard [In Quad. Serm. 4], discoursing on prayer, says that in the case of many it is either timid, or lukewarm; or presumptuous. "Timid prayer," he goes on to say, "does not reach to Heaven, because unreasonable fear holds back the soul, so that the petition is not able, I will not say to ascend, but not so much as to make a start. Lukewarm prayer becomes languid as it rises, and fails, because it has no vigour. Presumptuous prayer ascends indeed, but rebounds, for it encounters resistance; and not merely does it not obtain grace, but it also earns offence. But prayer which is faithful, humble, and fervent, will without doubt reach to Heaven, from whence it is certain that it cannot return empty." Before all things it is necessary that prayer should be trustful. How many are there who before they begin to pray, begin to despair. "God will not hear me," they say; "I shall not obtain what I seek; I shall cry to Him in vain." What a wretched ambassador! He has scarcely left home, when he faints through want of Trust. But our Lord instructs us how Trust is to be shown towards God in our prayers when He says, -----"There was a judge in a certain city, who feared not God, nor regarded man; and there was a certain widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, Avenge me of my adversary. And he would not for a long time; but afterwards he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her, lest continually coming she weary me." [Luke XVIII. 2-5] See the sturdy and almost daring hope which instilled into the widow the feeling,-----"Today you shall have your suit decided." When today's hope had disappointed her, tomorrow's hope encouraged her,-----"It will be done tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. This week, this month, or certainly this year, judgment will be delivered." Her persevering trust at length prevailed and this our Lord uses as an argument in the following way:-----If prayer can effect so much even with a man utterly void of justice, of how great power will it be with Him Who is Mercy itself? Our mind, like the widow, reckons up its adversaries in overwhelming numbers. Why, then, does it delay to appeal to the Judge Who is perfect in Justice, and commit its entire cause to Him with unfaltering Trust? "Will not God revenge His elect, who cry to Him day and night; and will He have patience in their regard?" [Luke XVIII. 7] Blessed David, commending this Trust above all things, says,-----"Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in Him, and He will do it." [Ps. XXXVI. 5] Why, then, do you stand shivering with fear? Why are you distrustful, O most faint-hearted of mortals? Does anyone assail you with curses or injuries? Complain of it to God, "and He will do it." Is your flesh full of sin? Pray to God, "and He will do it." Does the evil spirit move against you various engines of Hell? Call God to your aid, "and He will do it." Whatever you do, trust in God, "and He will do it."
3. And have you forgotten, O man of small faith, what our Lord relates for our instruction in this matter? "Which of you," He says, "shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and shall say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; because a friend of mine is come off his journey to me, and I have not what to set before him? And he from within should answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say to you, although he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity he will rise, and give him as many as he needeth. And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." [Luke XI. 5-10] There is nothing more pleasing to God than that we should address Him with as great confidence as a friend does a friend. Nor will anyone ever address God unseasonably. Look at the beggar, who for a single penny, or a crust of bread, wait patiently before a house, or runs after the carriages as they roll by. And what is it fitting that we should do when we are suitors for the bounty of the wealthiest of Kings? Is there not need here of the most patient Trust? John, the beloved Apostle, says, -----"And this is the confidence which we have towards Him, that whatsoever we shall ask according to His Will, He heareth us: and we know that He heareth us whatsoever we ask; we know that we have the petitions which we request of Him." [1 John V. 14, 15] "And which of you if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion? If you then," says Christ, "being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father from Heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him?" [Luke XI. 11-13] But it very often happens that we, in our miserable ignorance, ask not for bread, but for a stone; not for a fish, but for a serpent; for "we know not what we should pray for as we ought" [Rom. VIII. 26]; and when God denies us that which would be for our harm, we are angry with our most Benignant Father, and complain, with anger, that our prayers are not heard. Madmen that we are! Do not parents often refuse an apple or a pear to a little child from whom a vast inheritance of money will not be withheld? Paul of Tarsus, when praying for the removal of the-----"sting in the flesh," thought he was offering a most reasonable petition; but God did not grant his prayers. And as often as this happens it ought to be clear to us that what we pray for is not granted for our advantage, or that it is rightly deferred, in order to be granted at some far more fitting time, and that, meanwhile, we may win God's favour by our persevering trust. "God," says S. Isidore, "very often does not hear our prayers according to our will, but according to our salvation." Eternal Providence cannot but know what most conduces to our welfare; nor can Eternal Benevolence not will to grant what it knows is for our good. Most accurately does it know the proper time when it ought to help each person. And so nothing should ever be asked from God without perfect subjection or resignation of the will; for "whatever we shall ask according to His Will, He heareth us." And therefore to all our prayers these words of our Lord must be appended,-----"Nevertheless, not My Will, but Thine be done." But, if we obstinately strive to wrest anything from God, it is to be feared lest what, as a most merciful Father, He has denied, He may, as a severe Judge, permit for our evil: and thus our "prayer be turned to sin." [Ps. CVIII. 7] Let this be held by us as a most infallible truth, that no prayers offered with fitting resignation of will are vain, absolutely none; for either that which is sought will be obtained, or something better. And this it is which wonderfully inflames the confidence of every one who prays, because, "Whatsoever we shall ask according to His Will, He heareth us."