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 One: 

Chapter Three:
How The Divine Will Is To be Recognized By Means
Of The Most Secret Judgments Of God

AND here that saying of the Prophet must constantly be repeated,-----"O Lord, Thy Judgments are a great deep." [Ps. XXXV. 6] Great, great beyond all measure! From ancient times the two servants of the king of Egypt, the butler and the baker, pointed out this "deep," as it were with a finger. Both served the same king, both fell into disgrace, both were thrown into prison and bonds, and for no light reason, for with both was king Pharao angry; both of them also he remembered during his feast; to both he might have granted the favor of life, without prejudice to his justice; or both he might have condemned to death. And yet he sentenced the one to a punishment of shame, while he restored the other to his former office. The baker he hanged, and exposed him as food for the birds; the butler he restored to favor, and at last admitted him again to serve at the royal table. And such are the Judgments of God, Who banishes some from His Presence through Justice, but admits others to it through Grace. His Judgments are a great deep! "Who is able to declare His works?

For who shall search out His glorious acts?" [Ecclus. XVIII. 4]

    1. How secret were the Judgments of God about Nabuchodonosor, and that Pharao which knew not Joseph! [Exod. I. 8] S. Augustine well says concerning them:-----"Nabuchodonosor, having been scourged after his numberless iniquities, merited repentance which brought forth good fruit; while on the other hand Pharao was made more obdurate by the very scourges and perished. Both were kings and wicked ones; both were admonished by scourges; and what, I pray, made their ends so different? One of them, when he felt the hand of God, bewailed his sin, and came to his senses; the other, refusing to acknowledge the Will of God, continued in his sins and perished." And so it is that the same medicine, compounded by the same hand, affects two persons, who are laboring under the very same disease, in an entirely different way, and leads one to health, the other to the grave. Thus the two thieves who were crucified with Christ were equally guilty, and were punished in the same way by the self-same death, and yet after death they shared habitations as different as it was possible to be! The Judgments of God are a great deep!

   That excellent king Asa, who "did that which was good and pleasing in the sight of his God, and destroyed the altars of foreign worship, and the high places, and broke the statues, and cut down the groves" [2 Par. XIV. 2, 3], he, I say, who was the best of kings, yet at the end of his reign corrupted his earlier praise. For a long time he bore himself illustriously, for thirty years he might have been considered a pattern for the most excellent princes; but at length, trusting in the king of Syria more than in God, he threw into prison the prophet Hanani who rebuked him for what he had done, slew many of the people, and, being afflicted with a painful disease in his feet, trusted more to the skill of physicians than to the Divine aid. Alas! how little did his end answer to his beginning! How was that holy king changed from himself! And, on the other hand, Manasses, a most wicked king, who disfigured the whole of his life with infamy through his evil deeds, at length came to himself, and crowned his bad beginning with a noble end. Thy Judgments, O my God, are a great deep,-----too deep to fathom!

    2. What objects of wonder are Saul and David! Both of them at the beginning were deserving of praise; both fell into grievous sins, to the scandal of the whole kingdom; for this both were punished, but with what a different effect! Saul, a man of obstinate impiety, perished most miserably; David turned his punishment into healing discipline, and thereby became a man after God's Own Heart. And here it is impiety to ask "why is this?" That "why" came from the school of the devil. Many have been ruined by that querulous "why" and "wherefore." "Why hath God commanded you?" [Gen. III. I] asked at the beginning the subtlest of serpents. To whom they ought to have replied, "We know that God has commanded, but why He has commanded is not for us to inquire. It is the Will of the Lord, and the grounds of this Will are not to be investigated by us." "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him? For of Him, and by Him, and in Him are all things." [Rom. XI. 34-36] But perhaps some one will say, "Yet it may be lawful to require some reason for this or that command." From whom? from God-----to Whom alone that which He pleases is lawful, and Whom nothing pleases but that which is lawful?

   How wonderful also is it that the Samaritans with the utmost readiness believe our Lord's words, and pray Him to remain with them, while the Gerasens are unbelieving, and pray Him to depart from them! The faithless Jews cannot be induced by words, or deeds, or by any wonders and miracles to believe in the Truth. Thy Judgments, O Lord, are a great deep!

   Julian of Alexandria, a holy Martyr, being deprived of the use of his feet, was carried in a chair to the judgment-seat by two servants. One of them, renouncing his faith and his master, apostatized most disgracefully; the other, Eunus by name, remained faithful to God and his master; and so both of them, having been placed on camels, and scourged through the whole city of Alexandria, were at length thrown together into a fire, and ended their life most holily. When Besa, a soldier, saw them, and, through pity for the innocent, tried to restrain the violence ot the wonted crowd, he was accused before the judge and beheaded. In truth he received the reward intended for that traitor. Thy Judgments, O Lord, are a great deep!

     "O Lord, how great are Thy works; Thy thoughts are exceeding deep. The senseless man shall not know; nor will the fool understand these things." [Ps. XCI. 6, 7] Truly Thou art a God that hideth Thyself! In the year 1117, when the whole of Italy was disturbed by earthquakes, it is related that some of the nobles of Milan were sitting in a tower, engaged in business of the state, when a voice was heard outside, which called one of them by name to come out. At first he hesitated, and doubted who called, and who it was that was called and so he sat still, and waited for a repetition of the summons, when behold! a stranger presented himself at the door, and begged him to come out. He had scarcely gone a few steps from the place when the tower fell, and buried them all! Now why should this man alone, and none of the rest, have been preserved from death? The Judgments of God are a great deep! Who can fail to see that in this case the miracles of old time were repeated? Thus it was that an Angel led out Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom. Thus likewise a thousand others, amid the multitude of those who perished, have been saved from destruction.

      In the year 1597, there lived at Monreale, in Sicily, a man abandoned to an evil life, who had been often admonished that he should give up his impure life. Still the wretched man persisted in his wickedness, and after the last warning was stabbed in the lap of the wretched companion of his sin. Another man, of similar habits, who for many years had lived in impurity, when he heard of this sad death, determined to grow wise through another man's sin, and reconciled himself to God. And what can I here exclaim again, but this same, Thy Judgments, O Lord, are past finding out!

3. And it was this which hurried away S. Paul into such great wonder. To those twins, Esau and Jacob, when they were not as yet born, and had done no good or evil, it was said,-----"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid. O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, why hast Thou made me thus? Or hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?" [Rom. IX. 13, 14, 20, 21] The goldsmith fashions his silver and gold, the potter the clay, according to his will, although between the potter and the clay there is not even the shadow of such a relationship as exists between God and man, the vilest worm of earth. Who therefore will say to God, "Why dost Thou so?" [Job IX. 12]

   Dorotheus relates that a ship full of slaves for sale once upon a time arrived at a certain city. Now there was in that place a virgin of most saintly life, and who was entirely devoted to the care of her soul. She was exceedingly pleased that an opportunity was afforded her of purchasing from the ship a little maid whom she might train, under her own immediate guidance, while she was still of a teachable age, to sanctity of life. And, fortunately, the captain had two little damsels, one of whom the lady bought at a high price. She had hardly left the ship when there arrived a woman of profligate manners, who acted plays with a dancing-girl; and she having bid for the other little maid, when she heard that she might be obtained for a trifling sum, bought her and carried her away. Alas! wretched little one, who hast fallen to a mistress as wicked as the other has to a good one! And who can here search out the depth of the Divine Judgment? Both of these little maids were of an innocent age, both were offered for sale, both were ignorant of the lot which awaited them, both, like a new vase, would preserve the odor of that which they earliest imbibed; and yet the one, from being trained in manners becoming a maiden, without difficulty became accustomed to the practice of virtue from her tenderest years, and in this way worthy of the companionship of Angels; while the other, being instructed by that Fury in every kind of wantonness and profligacy, and imitating too successfully the abandoned manners of her mistress, became a veritable prey for the Devil. And yet she would have been different, if she had had a different mistress. But, "Thy Judgments, O Lord, are a great deep!"

The experience also of S. Gregory the Great, in his own family, is much the same. This most holy man had three aunts on his father's side, all of whom devoted themselves to Christ, and the Society of Holy Virgins. The first two preserved the vow of virginity with the utmost fidelity, and finished their life by a most blessed end. But the third, Gordiana, would listen to no admonitions, and so, greedily devouring the baits of sin, burst at length from all restraint, left the Society, and married a farm-bailiff. "O Lord, Thy Judgments are a great deep!" Let no one try to fathom them! "Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge. Who can search out His ways?"

[Job XXXVI. 23, 26] King David is very cautious here,-----"I am become," he says, ''as a beast before Thee." [Ps. LXXII. 21] Into Thy Judgments, O my God, I do not pry; I behave as Thy beast. It is the part of a beast to obey the command of his master, not to discuss his orders. And what wonder is it that a man who had not been educated in the Schools, but who had passed the earliest days of his youth in tending a flock, should think thus of himself, when the very Seraphim, those most glorious spirits, do the same? For, when question was in Heaven concerning the rejection of the Jews, the Seraphim covered their face and feet with two wings each [Isai. VI. 2], confessing that they could not by their knowledge attain to such a height, as worthily to extol the wonderful works of God; that the Divine Judgments surpass all power of understanding; and that they are therefore content to know that the Deity is thrice holy,-----holy in Itself, holy in Its Judgments, holy in Its Works. If, then, the most glorious Angels thus adore the secret Judgments of God, how much more ought we, who are utterly insignificant men of earth, to exclaim, "The Lord is faithful in all His words, and holy in all His works?" [Ps. CXLIV. 17] And here let that most admirable saying of S. Augustine be a comfort to everyone: "God is able to save some without any good deserts, because He is Good. He cannot condemn any without evil deserts, because He is Just."

4. We behold wonderful revolutions in the world, continual changes, events altogether unexpected, and sometimes we say, "Pray let us see how the thing will end." After a time we do see, and are astonished, muttering to ourselves some such freezing exclamation as "I could not have thought it!" But we know not, miserable creatures that we are, what will follow; and however things may turn out, the reason of them is not to be asked,-----"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are My ways exalted above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts." [Isai. LV. 8, 9] To inquire the reason of the secret Counsel of God is nothing else, according to S. Gregory, than to wax wanton against His Ordinance. It becomes us to say at all times with Blessed Paul, "O the depth of the riches of the Wisdom and of the Knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His Judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!" [Rom. XI. 33] In this life there are many things which we shall never rightly search out. Let it suffice us to know that God is not unjust, and that at the last day there will not be one who will not be constrained to say, "Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and true is Thy Judgment." King David, indeed, tried his utmost to search out the secret Judgments of God. "I studied," he says, "that I might know this thing." [Ps. LXXII. 16] But at length, not finding any end to his search,-----"It is a labor in my sight," he confesses, "until I go into the sanctuary of God." This knowledge of secret things must be postponed for a better world.

   Let us, therefore, also fold the wings of a curious mind. The regular flow and ebb of the sea has exercised all the learning of philosophers, and how can we fathom the most profound recesses of the Divine Judgments? Who can find out why one was born in Turkey, and another among Christians? Why the Gospel of Christ has come so late into many countries, and meanwhile so many thousands of men have perished while the same Gospel has early been spread in other provinces? What is the reason why one country is throughout its entire length infected with heresy, while another flourishes in entire freedom from all contamination of it? Why does the Divine Vengeance pass by some, while it falls upon others? Why are some innocent people overthrown, and why do the sins of ancestors descend to their posterity? Why were so many expeditions of kings and emperors undertaken in vain for the recovery of the Holy Land? Let us shrink from asking why God gave to Adam place for repentance, but not to Lucifer. Why Christ showed mercy on Peter, but not on Iscariot. Why one person dies in the cradle, another in old age. Why one perishes in depravity, though he has not been depraved for long, while another recovers himself from depravity, though he has for a long time wallowed in vice. Why one is rolling in riches, while another has neither bread nor money. What meanest thou, O wandering mind, by this curious inquiry? Do you desire to touch that heavenly fire of the Divine Judgment? You will be melted with the heat. Do you wish to scale the citadel of Providence? You will fall. Just as moths and other tiny insects ever and anon in the evening fly round the light of a candle till they are burnt, so the human mind disports itself around that hidden flame We have the eyes of bats for this sun. We are only human; we understand not the secret Counsels of God "The works of the Highest only are wonderful, and His works are hidden." [Ecclus. XI. 4] There never was a man who could at the same time read a book written within and without. That book of the Divine Judgments is written within full of Predestination, without of Providence. The Eternal, all-wise God has "ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight; and who shall resist the strength of His Arm?" [Wisdom XI. 2 I, 22] Let us rest assured of this, that the Cause before all causes is THE WILL OF GOD, and he who seeks a different cause than this is ignorant of the strength and power of the Divine Nature; for it is necessary that every cause should in a certain way be prior to, and greater than, its own effect; but nothing is prior to, nothing is greater than, God and His Will. Of this, therefore, there is no cause. And what more do you now desire? God has permitted, God has willed, God has done! The Will of God is, as Salvian rightly and piously says, Supreme Justice. It is the most consummate wisdom quietly to acquiesce in the Decrees of the Divine Will and Providence.