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 Five: With How Great Rewards God Recompenses Man's Trust in Him

A HELMET on the head does good service to many, and so does a breastplate on the chest, and an anchor in the sea; and yet many who are defended with a helmet are struck down, many covered with a breastplate are pierced through, many furnished with an anchor are drowned; but "they that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever." [Ps. CXXIV. 1] For as no assault of tempests and no violence of waves can move the rock of Sion from its place, not merely because it is a Mount, but because it is the holy Mount of God, so no assault of troubles will overthrow the man who really trusts in God, and desires to be obedient to the Divine Will in all things. This Trust in God is a helmet which can be cleft by no stroke, a breastplate which can be pierced by no weapon, an anchor which is liable to no shipwreck. "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm." [Heb. VI. 19]

1. S. Paul, that world-wide Preacher, observed that the Trust of certain of his converts was wavering, as if they had been fed with vain hope. Thinking that these over-timid brethren should be instructed aright, he said,-----"Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward. For patience is necessary for you, that doing the Will of God, you may receive the promise." [Heb. X. 35, 36]

And the first reward of such a Trust is that it deceives no one, or makes him ashamed. [Rom. V. 5] But that fallacious trust in human things deceives ten thousand times, and yet it does not make the deceived at all more cautious. In the year 1084, Archbishop Otho, brother of William, King of England, under the influence of certain predictions, believed that he should be the next Pope after Gregory VII, and, in order to pave the way to the Chair with steps of silver, he collected money on all sides by nefarious means; and when he was on the point of approaching the height of greatness in expectation, he was thrown into prison by his brother William, where he spent three years, and this was the throne which was the reward of his hope: nor did he ever wear the Roman tiara. And so in the case of many others, their hope has turned to disgrace and loss. "For the hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the wind, and as a thin froth which is dispersed by the storm: and a smoke that is scattered abroad by the wind: and as the remembrance of a guest of one day that passeth by." [Wisdom V. 15] But Hope and Trust in God bring disgrace to no one. "Hope confoundeth not." [Rom. V. 5] "No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.

For who hath continued in His commandment, and hath been forsaken? or who hath called upon Him, and He despised him?" [Ecclus. II. 11, 12] And here, I pray you, consider how the Trust which Moses placed in God did not confound him. When the Israelites went out of Egypt they were enclosed within a narrow compass, for behind them was their enemy Pharao, and in front of them mountains and the sea forbade all further flight. Whereupon Moses is said to have poured forth this prayer, [JOSEPH. Antiq. II. 16]:-----"Thine, O Lord, is this sea; Thine too is this mountain which shuts us in; and this can at Thy command either be cleft in sunder, or turned into level ground, and the sea can be made dry land. Nay, we might escape by a flight through the air, if it should please Thee that we should be thus preserved." And when he had thus prayed, he struck the sea with his rod; which suddenly parted with the blow, showed a path for them to pass over straight before them. "Hope confoundeth not." Therefore, the first prerogative of Trust in God is not to deceive.

2. A second reward of the same Trust is entire tranquillity of life. He who really trusts in God performs his duties without excitement, however widely they may extend, being joyful even in the midst of adversity. "Let all them be glad that hope in Thee: they shall rejoice for ever." [Ps. V. 12] "for we are saved by hope." [Rom. VIII. 24] "Blessed are all they that trust in Him. [Ps. II. 12] Most beautifu1ly, according to his wont, does S. Augustine say on the words of the Psalm CXXVII. 2,-----"Thou shalt eat the labours of thy hands [fruits]: blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee."-----"He seemeth to speak perversely to those who understand not, for he should have said, 'Thou shalt eat the fruit of thy labours.' For many eat the fruit of their labour. They labour in the vineyard, they eat not the toil itself, but what ariseth from their labour they eat. What meaneth 'thou shalt eat the labours of thy fruits?' At present we have toils; the fruits will come afterwards. But since their labours themselves are not without joy, on account of the hope [whereof we have a little before spoken, 'Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation'], at present those very labours delight us, and make us joyful in hope. If, therefore, our toil has been what could be eaten and could also delight us, what will be the fruit of our labour when eaten?"

There is an old saying of the Germans, and one which is very often inscribed on walls, to the effect that he who has commended all things to God will be tranquil on one side, and blessed on the other. And it really is so, for always to commend all things to God obtains in this life tranquillity, and in the life to come Beatitude. But all things are to be commended to God, and are all alike to be received from the hand of God in such a way as that this rule should admit of no exception. And most admirably does a pious writer say that this rule, of receiving all things from the Hand of God, is so universal in its obligation as that no departure whatever from it is to be allowed. So that not only crosses, and external afflictions coming from the world and one's neighbour, ought to be received as from God, but also those internal sufferings which take their rise from our imperfections; since all things work together for gootl for them that love God. [Rom. VIII. 28]

3. The third reward is strength in adversity, and a soul that cannot be subdued by calamity. "The just is as an everlasting foundation. The just shall never be moved." [Prov. X. 25, 30] David, that most courageous king, exclaims,-----"I have put my trust in the Lord, and shall not be weakened." [Ps. XXV. 1] Admirably does Theodoret say,-----"Have God as your Pilot and Charioteer, and let all that belongs to you hang on His Providence, for in this way will you remain unshaken and unchangeable." Such was the way in which the army of holy Martyrs bore themselves. It is a new and rare sight to be suspended on "the Horse," [An instrument of torture] and to have the ribs burnt, and yet all the while to laugh and jest. It is nothing new that there should be a great concourse of the people when sweetmeats are scattered about, or when gifts and doles are bestowed. But when heads are struck off, when gridirons, and wheels, and crosses are brought forward, and when tortures of all kinds are called into play, that people should still be found to run to meet them, and vie with one another as to who should be the first to die, this is indeed a novelty, this was never heard of before. "And yet this," says Eusebius, "I have witnessed with my own eyes. I have seen numberless people in Egypt led outside the city walls into the open country without being fettered, one striving to get before another in stretching out their necks. The executioners and their swords were wearied out; they sat down tired, and others took their place; the swords were exchanged for fresh ones; the day was not long enough for the work; and yet none of them, not even a little child, was terrified by death." Behold these invincible heroes and heroines, Like Mount Sion, they could not be moved. And here S. Chrysostom [In Ps. CXXIV. 1] appositely remarks,-----"By Mount Sion he means Trust in God, which is immutable, firm, constant, invincible, and impregnable. For just as if anyone were to employ innumerable engines, he would be able neither to root up a mountain nor cause it to totter, so also whoever attacks the man who has placed his Trust in God will labour to no purpose. But why said he not absolutely, 'as a mountain,' but makes mention of Mount Sion? It is to teach us that we ought not to despond in afflictions, nor be overwhelmed with them, but hanging on God, with trust in Him, bravely bear all things, whether they be wars, or conflicts, or tumults. For as this Mountain, which was once upon a time desolate, and abandoned by its inhabitants, returned to its former prosperity when its inhabitants had come back, and wonders were again shown there, so a man of brave and generous spirit. although assailed by numberless calamities, is nevertheless not moved in even the least degree. They who trust in the Lord shall change their courage from human into Divine, "they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." [Isai. XL. 31] "Blessed are all they that trust in Him." [Ps. II. 12] Therefore, "do ye manfully, and let your heart be strengthened, all ye that hope in the Lord." [Ps. XXX. 25]

4. The fourth reward is freedom from many sins. "And none of them that trust in Him shall offend." [Ps. XXXIII. 23] On the testimony of S. Bernard [De Grat. et Lib. Arbit.]:-----"True conversion consists in not being pleased with anything but that which is proper and lawful; and the will then at length will be perfect when it is fully good and goodly full." But that man may be thought to possess this "fully good and goodly full" will, who no longer follows his own will, but embraces the Divine Will instead, and transfuses his whole self into it with the most devout submission. And he it is who trusts in God in all things. But whoever is skilled in this happiest of arts, and makes a real and entire surrender of himself both to the Providence of God and His Will, fears not the grievous assaults of sins. True Trust in God removes not only the disquietude of a troubled breast, but also that torpor of mind and listlessness which is the opposite of it. Learn, therefore, to trust in God, even if all things are adverse. Learn against hope to believe in hope [Rom. IV. 18], and the Will of the Lord shall prosper in your hand. [Isai. LIII. 10]

5. The fifth reward. By a true Trust in God we are made as it were omnipotent. S. Paul fearlessly exclaims,-----"I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me." [Phil. IV. 13] But what need have we of further evidence? Our Lord Himself has said most clearly,-----"If thou canst believe, ALL THINGS are possible to him that believeth." [Mark IX. 22] Upon which words of our Lord S. Bernard [Serm. 85 in Cant.] beautifully says,-----"Why should not all things be possible to the man who leans on Him Who can do all things? Nothing more clearly shows the Omnipotence of God than that He makes all those omnipotent who trust in Him. For is not he omnipotent to whom all things are possible?"

When the Apostles asked our Lord privately why they could not heal the child who was a lunatic, and possessed of an evil spirit, He ascribed the entire reason to their want of Trust in Him, saying,-----"Because of your unbelief; for amen I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you." [Matt. XVII. 19] And not only is Christian Faith commended, but also that Trust which so invests itself with Divine Omnipotence as to attempt things however difficult, and perform wonders. Although Christ said not, "Work miracles," but, "Have faith in God," yet leave off your complaints against the ordinance of God; master your cowardice which trembles before difficulties; drive out from yourselves all want of Trust. If you are notable to tread upon serpents and dragons, trample under foot your pride; if you cannot subdue fire at your word, extinguish the flames of your lusts; if you cannot tame lions, and subdue leopards and tigers, restrain your anger; if you cannot raise the dead to life again, kill envy, which is endued with marvelous vitality through your evil doiings; if you cannot clothe dead trees with fresh foliage, yet furnish with a rich gift your hand which has hitherto been niggardly. It is this which Christ requires-----"Have faith in God." And he who has this elicits some good from all evils; from every lump of lead he collects some silver and gold. And this is Divine workmanship; for, as Boethius says, "that alone is Divine power to which even evils are good, when, by handling them aright it elicits from them some good results."