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 Five:

Chapter Four: How Great Trust in God was Exhibited by All the Saints

I WILL not speak of Abraham, who trusting in God "against hope, believed in hope. In the promise also of God he staggered not by distrust; but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God; most fully knowing that whatsoever He has promised He is able also to perform." [Rom. IV. 18-21] He it was who refused not to offer up his only son as a sacrifice to God, and who with three hundred and eighteen servants attacked and vanquished four kings through his surpassing Trust in God. [Gen. XIV. 14-16] Neither will I speak of Joseph, the governor of Egypt, who, though so often brought to extremity, yet did not lose his courage, for his heart trusted in the Lord. What miracles did not Moses, who trusted in God, perform? He enclosed all the hosts of Egypt in one vast sepulchre in the sea. In the war with Amalec he held a rod in his hand, instead of any weapon such as generals use, and thus he addressed the captain of the host:-----
"Choose out men: and go out and fight against Amalec; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill having the rod of God in my hand." [Exodus XVII. 9] Wonderful indeed! Moses, standing like an idle spectator, lays whole armies in the dust. His panoply was the rod of God, and Trust in Him. Josue, too, the leader of the hosts of Israel, prevailing through his incredible Trust in God, dared to command the sun, and say,-----"Move not, O Sun, toward Gabaon, nor thou, O Moon, to ward the valley of Ajalon. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down the space of one day. There was not before nor after so long a day, the Lord obeying the voice of man, and fighting for Israel." [Jos. X. 12-14] And so, in a short time, all the kings of Chanaan were conquered. And what is the lesson from this? To admonish all those who exercise authority over others that they place their trust in God alone, Who directs the hearts of men, and commands alike the highest and the lowest to stand still in mid-career. Or why should I speak of Caleb, who had such Trust in God, that, when so many hundred thousand men were tumultuously gathered together he alone resisted them, and exclaimed,-----"Be not rebellious against the Lord: and fear ye not the people of this land, for we are able to eat them up as bread. All aid is gone from them: the Lord is with us, fear ye not." [Num. XIV. 9] And how great was the trust of Gedeon, who was educated rather for agriculture than warfare, and who with three hundred men [Judges VII. 8] dared to attack so many thousands of the enemy, and overcame them. King Ezechias, too, abounding in Trust in God, not merely obtained the addition of fifteen years to his life, but, as a pledge of it, was permitted to recall the shadow of the sun ten degrees. [lsai. XXXVIII. 8] As, therefore, Josue caused the sun to stand still, so Ezechias made it go back over an immense part of its orbit. And thus, in good truth, the soul which trusts in God impels Him to disturb the course of the world, and to change the order of nature. Ezechias, then, was able to work this miracle by his Trust in God., which when Sennacherib was threatening Jerusalem, induced him to put on, sackcloth, rather than armour; clad in which he, first of all, entered the temple, and exhorted the people to prayer, and to renew their Trust in God, saying,-----"Behave like men and take courage: be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of the Assyrians, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there are many more with us than with him. For with him is an arm of flesh: with us the Lord our God, Who is our helper, and fighteth for us." [2 Par. XXXII. 7, 8] How full of Trust in God was this exhortation! But how did it happen that the wretched Zedecias did not do the like, when all the while his army was larger than that of Ezechias? It was this which ruined that king; he trusted too much in his own strength, and perished, trusting "upon this broken staff of a reed: upon which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it." [Isai. XXXVI. 6]

2. The same thing also caused the ruin of that most excellent King Asa. For thirty-six years he lived an admirable life, and was on this account beloved of God; but at length he forfeited all the favour which he had acquired on account of this one sin, that he trusted in human strength. But although this was the conduct of Asa yet, if it is measured by the rule of human reason, it may seem little deserving of condemnation; for what was the nature of his sin? He surrendered his gold to Benadad, King of Syria, and alleged, as a reason for the act,-----
"There is a league between me and thee, as there was between my father and thy father, wherefore I have sent the silver and gold, that thou mayst break thy league with Baasa, King of Israel, and make him depart from me." [2 Par. XVI. 3] And what was there wrong here, I would ask? Nevertheless Hanani the Seer severely rebuked Asa, and said,-----"Because thou hast had confidence in the King of Syria, and not in the Lord thy God, therefore hath the army of the King of Syria escaped out of thy hand. For the eyes of the Lord behold all the earth, and give strength to those who with a perfect heart trust in Him. Wherefore thou hast done foolishly, and for this cause from this time wars shall arise against thee." [2 Par. XVI. 7-9]

And so Job says,-----"If I beheld the sun when it shined, and the moon going in brightness: and my heart in secret hath rejoiced, and I have kissed my hand with my mouth." [Job xxx. 26, 27] "The good," says S. Gregory, "which he did he thus relates, that he may ascribe it all to God. Job was not wont to praise his own diligence, or to kiss his hands; for not in himself, and in his own power, but in God did he place all his trust. Thus, too, the Emperor Charles V, who was really 'pious' and truly 'happy,' was accustomed to say,-----'I came, I saw, but God conquered.' "
Jonas, when enclosed in the belly of the whale, and now reduced to the last extremity, was still able to betake himself to prayer, as though he were in perfect safety in a ship, and never, and in no place, could he better exercise the virtue of Trust in God;-----
"And Jonas prayed to the Lord his God out of the belly of the fish." [Jonas II. 2] Everywhere there is place for prayer and vows. And what was his prayer?-----"The waters compassed me about even to the soul: the deep hath closed me around about, the sea hath covered my head. When my soul was in distress, within me, I remembered the Lord: that my prayer may come to Thee, unto Thy holy Temple." [Ver. 6, 8] See his great Trust in God! And so, too, Daniel in the midst of the hungry lions, and the three Hebrew Children in the flames at Babylon, dispatched as ambassadors to God prayers full of Trust in Him.

And how greatly did Paul of Tarsus excel in this virtue, who, though often burying himself, as it were, could yet say,-----"I know Whom I have believed, and I am certain,that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." [2 Tim. 1, 12] And armed with this Trust in God he feared no labour or danger, but hurried through showers of stones, and swords, and darts, and flames, relying on the Divine Aid, and by the help of his God he often passed over even walls of iron.

3. Among women Judith excelled most admirably in this virtue, daring to do a deed which had never been heard of before. For when she had conceived the design of killing Holofernes, she inflamed her Trust in God with fervent prayer, and said,-----"Assist, I beseech thee, O Lord God, me a widow. For Thou hast done the things of old, and hast devised one thing after another: and what Thou hast designed hath been done. For all Thy ways are prepared, and in Thy providence Thou hast placed Thy judgments. For Thy power, O Lord, is not in a multitude, nor is Thy pleasure in the strength of horses, nor from the beginning have the proud been acceptable to Thee: but the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee." [Judith IX. 3, and fol.] And through the same amazing Trust in God she replied to Holofernes,-----"As thy soul liveth, my Lord, Thy handmaid shall not spend all these things till God do by my hand that which I have purposed." [Chap. XII. 4] And when she was now standing by the bed of Holofernes in his drunkenness, she said, while she silently poured forth tears and prayers,-----"Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel." [Chap. XIII. 7] With great success did she perform her design, and when received again within the gates of Bethulia, these were the first words with which she burst forth,-----"Praise ye the Lord our God, Who hath not forsaken them that hope in Him. And by me His handmaid He hath fulfilled His mercy, which He promised to the house of Israel: and He hath killed the enemy of His people by my hand this night." [Chap. XIII. 17, 18]

And to her Susanna may be justly added, a noble example of Modesty and Trustfulness. When she was being led away to be put to death, "she weeping looked up to Heaven: for her heart had confidence in the Lord." [Dan. XIII. 35] Nor did she trust in vain, for by the unanimous voice of all, Daniel acting as her judge, she was acquitted of every charge.

<><>Nor was Esther inferior to her, for she in like manner undertook a task of great danger through her Trust in God. It was a law in the palace of Assuerus that if anyone came into the presence of the king without being summoned he should be put to death, unless the king should stretch out his golden sceptre as a sign of clemency. [Esther IV. 11] But when Mardochai on the one side was urging Esther with constant entreaties to approach the king, and on the other the law stood in the way and terrified her, she at length determined upon this plan. All the Jews were bidden to give themselves to prayer and fasting for three whole days, and Esther with her maidens did the like. And when three days had been spent in this way, the queen, conceiving within herself unbounded Trust in God, entered into the king's presence to beg his favour for her people. And everything turned out according to her desire.

4. It may be affirmed generally of all men and women who have been remarkable for saintliness of life, that their heart had confidence in the Lord. This was singularly the case with S. Catherine of Siena. Although at all other times she was exceedingly sparing of her words, yet, whenever she engaged in conversation about Trust in God, she could scarcely find any limit for her speaking, or, if she heard others talking of this virtue, she never could hear enough. S. Bernard, when he was affiicted with a grievous disease, and was almost drawing his last breath, thought that he was standing before the Judgment-seat of God. Satan, too, was there as an adversary, and assailed him with shameful accusations. When the accuser had finished, and Bernard had now to speak for himself, he thus began his address with great confidence:-----"I confess that Heaven is due neither to myself, nor to my actions. Of so great a reward I am utterly unworthy. But my Lord has obtained it for me by a twofold right-by inheritance from His Father, and by the suffering of the Cross. ST. BERNARD

Through this gift I am confident that I too shall be an heir of that kingdom." At these words the adversary was put to shame, and, the conference ending, Bernard came to himself. S. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, a man of the greatest integrity, was one night haunted with grievous anxieties, and when he could not shake them off, he began to be disturbed in mind; but with early morning he came to himself, and sighing deeply said,-----"Alas! I have greatly sinned, because I have not, as becomes a Christian man, cast all my care upon the Lord, according to the command of the prophet!"

Frederick II, Duke of Saxony, surnamed "the Placid," died in the year 1464. Several years before his death this prince stirred up a quarrel with Frederick, Bishop of Magdeburg, and from that proceeded to war. And that he might carry it on with the greater prudence, and in order to secure success, he sent a spy to gain full information about the preparations and plans of the enemy. This was done; and when an examination had been made at all points, word was brought back to Frederick that there were no preparations at all for war, and that not even a single soldier had been called out, and furthermore that the Bishop had said that he should commend his cause to God, Who would take up arms for His servant. As soon as the Elector heard this he said,-----"Let some one else show his madness, if he will, and wage war against a man who is confident of gaining the victory through the help of God." And here the bishop is worthy of praise for relying on the protection of God, and so, too, is the prince for laying aside his arms, and fearing to have God as an Adversary.

5. And this is the counsel of the wise man,-----"Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart." [Prov. III. 5] But they who are destitute of such Trust look at human things alone, and measure all things by human strength. And it often happens that God forsakes such people as these in the execution of their devices, so that fruitlessly and with vain endeavours they look for great results, and drag along their languishing mind in a wretched state of expectation, and often close these human thoughts of theirs by some untoward event. But, on the other hand, our Trust in God most effectually conciliates on our behalf the Divine Beneficence. God rejoices to confer benefits, and showers the gifts of His munificence on those especially who elevate themselves to great Trust in Him. But if He keeps His bounteous Hand fast closed, and does not spread out the cloud of His Liberality, or only causes it to rain down upon us with very gentle drops, let us silently reflect Who it is that has dried up that heavenly cloud, which hangs suspended in the air, ever ready to descend in showers, and has caused it to cease from falling; let each person, I say, reflect on this, and accuse his sins, his lukewarmness and languor, and specially his want of Trust in God, and let him rouse himself to fresh Trust and hope for showers instead of drops. For when hindrances have been removed these clouds are ever ready to rain, and not merely now with such showers as were expected, but whole rivers and seas will, as it were, be cast down from Heaven that they may overwhelm in the waters of their abundance the heart which pants after them, and is strong in Trust. For God is not so rich in promises as in deeds. He has promised that even mountains may be removed. and the dead raised to life again.

"Blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and the Lord shall be his confidence." [Jer. XVII. 7] None ever trusted in the Lord, and was confounded.