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 Eight: How Great is the Providence of God Towards His Friends

IT is a glorious declaration, "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of My Eye." [Zach. II. 8] And with how great care did God follow the steps of that young harper [David], and with what a manifold Providence did He preserve him in such great perils, just as if this was the only man whom He had taken into His care! He himself testifies,
-----"Lord, Thou hast proved me, and known me: Thou hast known my sitting-down, and my rising-up. Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off: my path and my line Thou hast searched out." [Ps. CXXXVIII. 2, 3] All that pertains to me, O Lord, has been weighed by Thee from all eternity, even to the smallest tittle.

1. Saul fought for the blood and life of David with perpetual snares, but to no purpose, for God protected him. But when David was lying hid in the wilderness of Maon, Saul came there and with "his men encompassed David and his men round about to take them." [1 Kings XXIII. 26] And so effectually did he hem him in that there was no room for escape, or for hope. He was like a wild beast surrounded with nets and dogs. Here, then, the situation of David seemed to have come to a desperate pass. Saul who had all but gained the victory, was close at hand, threatening his life; the lion thought it was already holding the prey in its jaws. But this also was in vain, for God delivered him. A sorrowful messenger came to Saul to say that the Philistines had invaded the land, and that therefore he must hasten to drive the enemy from his borders. And so David, when matters had come to this hopeless state, and when he was all but within the claws, as it were, of a ferocious wild beast, was on a sudden released. God protected him; and so, by Divine Providence, he most happily escaped all the snares of the wicked king. But it is no marvel that David should have been thus kept by God as the apple of His Eye; for He knew with most perfect exactitude how to conform himself to Divine Providence. And behold a noble example of this! When he was flying from his rebellious son Absalom, Semei met him in the way, and assailed him with cruel curses. "Come out," he said, "come out, thou man of blood, and thou man of Belial. The Lord hath repaid thee for all the blood of the house of Saul: because thou hast usurped the kingdom in his stead, and the Lord hath given the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and behold thy evils press upon thee, because thou art a man of blood." [2 Kings XVI. 7, 8] Behold the monstrous wickedness of the man! Feeling no reverence either for the Divine Law, or for the Prince of the people, or his King, he called him contemptuously, and to his face, a murderer, a tyrant, and a usurper. What a shameful deed! Nor was it enough to assail with such insults a prince who was the gentlest of men, and was tenderly beloved by his subjects, and who was afflicted besides with extreme calamity,
and was well-nigh prostrate beneath it. Wicked Semei dared a still more dastardly deed. King David, who was now changed from a happy to a miserable man [than which change nothing can be more deplorable], was walking barefooted, and with his face covered with tears, and yet Semei attacked him with stones, as if he were a mad dog, and instead of flowers cast dust upon him! And here see the remarkable endurance of David! worthy of admiration for all generations, by means of which he bore himself with most entire submission to Divine Providence, and recognized this grievous injury as if it had been commanded by God. Abisai, the brother of Joab, had said, -----"Why should this dead dog curse my Lord the king? I wiIl go, and cut off his head." [Ver. 9] And then that devout prince, who three times had been chosen king, although so bitterly assailed by a person of impure life, who was also his subject, and whom he had never harmed by word or deed, not merely did not give way to anger and fury, nor thought of vengeance and throwing back his stones, but became the defender of his assailant, warded off the violence of his soldiers from him, extenuated the sin which he had committed though guilty of violence to his majesty, recognized an instrument of Divine Providence, acknowledged that God was the Author of all that had befallen him, and at length gave this command,-----"Let him alone and let him curse: for the Lord hath bid him curse David: and who is he that shall dare say, why hath he done so?" [2 Kings XVI. 10] Although, therefore, Semei committed a most heinous sin when he cursed, yet it is so far said that it was commanded him to curse, since God employed Semei's wicked will, which, however, He had not made, for the salutary correction of David.

And the same rule applies in all the trials and injuries in which God uses the will of wicked men, either to exercise the innocent, or to punish the guilty. These are to us as a whip when we have sinned, and a bridle lest we should sin; and, therefore, let anyone who is unjustly troubled by others exclaim with David, -----"The Lord be merciful unto me, that I extend not my hand upon the Lord's anointed. As the Lord liveth, unless the Lord shall strike him,-----or his day shall come to die, or he shall go down to battle and perish." [1 Kings XXVI. 10,  11]

2. Think of Joseph, I pray, the governor of Egypt. Through what by-paths and difficulties was he led, until he came to that crowning point of honour! And the beginning of this so great glory was the hatred of his brethren. Nor was the progress of evils arrested here; for a monstrous act of wickedness followed upon this ill-will which had arisen at home. Joseph was sold as a slave to the Ismaelites, and was carried into Egypt. Nor did a gentler lot await him there. The favour of his mistress was as destructive to that most virtuous of young men as the hatred of his brethren had been before. For when he allowed the daily blandishments of his mistress to fall upon unheeding ears, he was falsely accused to his master, and having been thrown into prison was kept there, innocent as he was, for the space of three years. It was not, of a truth, immediately upon his arrival in Egypt that he was placed in a chariot of triumph. By various vicissitudes and through many dangers he at length arrived at this pre-eminence. And all that befell him was done at the command of Divine Providence. Joseph himself most abundantly testifies to this when, speaking to his brothers about this same Divine Ordinance, he said, -----
"Not by your counsel was I sent hither, but by the will of God." [Gen. XLV. 8] "Fear not: can we resist the will of God? You thought evil against me: but God turned it into good." [Gen. L. 19, 20] "And let us," says S. Chrysostom, "not only listen to this, but imitate it also, and comfort in this way those who have afflicted us, not imputing to them the evils which they have committed against us, but bearing everything with perfect goodwill." For God, in His Supreme Providence, is thus wont to transform the worst events which befall His friends into joyful success. Often has an injury paved the way for blessings; many have fallen that they might rise the higher, and to greater things. Divine Providence is wont to use not only things which are rightly done, but sins also, to work out its own Decrees. Have you considered Joseph? Take away the wickedness of his brethren, take away their jealousy, take away the story of their brother's death, which they so cruelly invented, and you have, at the same time, taken away those very things on which the safety of Egypt rested. There would have been no interpretation of the king's dream, no gathering in of corn for seven years; but Egypt would have perished with famine, and neighboring nations would have perished also. Do you wish for a clearer example? Take away the covetousness of Iscariot, and the envy of the Jews, and at the same time you will have taken away the Ransom of the human race, the Blood and Death of Christ. Take away devils and conflicts, and then victories and rewards will almost entirely cease. Take away tyrants, and where will Martyrs be? It is the custom of Divine Providence not only to use the good for good, but the evil also. The selling of Joseph was, without doubt, efficiently from God, if you regard the nature of the action, but the wickedness which was covered by this action arose from the corrupt will of his brethren. And here S. Gregory [Mor. VI. 14] well remarks,-----"Behold, how the Divine Power takes the wise in their own wisdom! On this account was Joseph sold that he might not be made much of; and therefore was he made much of, because he was sold."

3. Charito, when traveling to Jerusalem, was intercepted by an ambush of robbers, and was dragged into their cave, and bound with chains. When the robbers had gone elsewhere, in search of booty, Charito did nothing else but extol God and Divine Providence with the loudest praises, and meditate upon this unexpected Permission of His, and thank his most loving Father for it, earnestly commending himself to Him, and desiring nothing else than that the Divine Will should be fulfilled in him. While his thoughts were thus occupied a serpent crept from its hiding-place to a can full of milk, from which it drank largely, although an uninvited guest; and, as his share of the entertainment, he, as ungrateful people are wont to do, poured in poison, instead of the milk which he had taken. When the robbers returned to their accustomed den their first act was to quench their thirst with a draught of milk. They drank more freely than the serpent, but so that they never drank again, for shortly afterwards the poison penetrated into their veins, and they all expired. Charito, therefore, who was now the heir of the robbers, and the sole proprietor of the vile den, commended himself more earnestly than ever to God's Will, and not in vain, for his chains having been loosened by Divine aid, in place of his wretched prison, he found a wealthy habitation, and the money which he discovered there he employed partly in relieving the poor, and partly in building a monastery. The cave of the robbers itself he turned into a church, where both Jews and heathens are now Baptized. Oh! marvelous designs of God's Providence.

S. Monegundis would never have attained to such sanctity of life unless Divine Providence had guided her to it through manifold difficulties. She had two daughters, young girls of remarkable beauty, on whom the fond mother lavished all her care and love, herself at that time having but littie thought for religion. It pleased Divine Providence to remove this enticement to sin; and so both daughters were carried off by a sudden death. The mother, just as if she herself: had survived her own death, began to hate life, to pluck out her hair, to tear her cheeks, to refuse all consolation for her grief, and to desire nothing else than to die at once, and follow her daughters. After her grief had somewhat spent itself in tears her lamentation abated, and becoming more composed she exclaimed, -----
"Am I not utterly mad for so obstinately crying out against Providence? What am I doing? Have I forgotten that I have brought forth daughters who are mortal? Were they born for this end, that they should not die? The Son of God, the Mother of God, men who are most dear to God, all die, and am I angry that my daughters have ceased to live, who died, perhaps, on this account, that they might not fall a prey to sin! Why, therefore, do I weary God with my complaints, Who can will nothing that is evil? Why do I not rather end this foolish lamentation, and compose myself calmly in the bosom of the Divine Will and Providence?" Thus she spoke, and thus she acted. She separated herself entirely from worldly affairs, and shut herself up in a small house with one little waiting-maid, intending from that day forward to serve God with all her power. And that this change of life was pleasing to God miracles testified, for Monegundis healed many sick people without medicines, as Gregory of Tours affirms. [De Clor. Confess. 24] So great a thing is it to commit oneself wholly to Divine Providence. S. Augustine has said, with the greatest truth,-----"He who had a care for you before you were, how shall He not have a care for you when you are now that which He willed you to be?"

4. Robert, the first Abbot of Molesme, a man who was a most careful observer of Divine Providence, gave whatever he was able to the poor. Upon one occasion he ordered two loaves to be given to two beggars, who were waiting before the door; but the steward demurred, and said that there was not even enough for dinner. "What then," said Robert, "shall we dine upon?" "I do not know," said the steward. It occurred, however, to the holy man that something was being concealed, from a mistaken anxiety to provide what was needful. And so when the Divine Office was concluded, and the signal for the meal was given, the abbot asked whence the loaves had been brought. "I kept a few for ourselves," replied the steward. Robert, feeling justly indignant, ordered all the loaves to be collected in a basket, and to be immediately carried away to the poor; then turning to his brethren, he said, -----
"Lest the disobedience and want of faith of our House should proceed further, fasting and hunger will teach us to trust in God." Robert wished that all who belonged to him should rest entirely on the most bounteous Providence of God, like an infant on its mother's breast. The very best remedy of ill-timed parsimony is hunger.

Dorotheus relates that a very devout old man felt a dislike for food for several days together, through weakness of stomach. A youth, who acted as his servant, in order to tempt his appetite, determined to cook a savoury morsel flavoured with honey. And so out of two jars he, in his haste, seized one in which rancid oil, made from flax, was kept, the resemblance between the vessels causing his error. In order, therefore, to do good to the old man, he poured in plentifully that which was not honey, but almost death itself, and cooked some pottage which could not have been offered even to a dog. The sick man scarcely tasted the disgusting food before he discovered that the hand of his cook had erred, still he said nothing, and ate beyond his strength. At length, when his stomach rejected any more, he put down the spoon, and not even by a single word did he complain of that loathsome dish. Whereupon his companion began to urge and press him to eat more heartily of the dainty food, saying that he had exhausted all his skill in its preparation, that it would work wonders upon his health, and that, in truth, he himself had wished to be the first to partake of this delicious feast. But the good old man so far restrained his loathing as not only not to be excited to use any harsh words, or even thought, towards his companion, but made this single excuse, that he had had enough of such delicate fare. Scarcely, then, had his companion tasted the pottage when he threw himself at the knees of the old man. "I have killed you, father," he said, "and why did you confirm my precipitate thoughtlessness by your silence?" Whereupon the old man replied, -----
"Do not torment yourself, my son; for if God had willed that I should eat honey, you would then have mingled honey with my food."

 "Admirably," says Dorotheus, "did the old man speak; for he knew, of a certainty, that if God had willed that honey should be eaten by aim, He would not have permitted his attendant to make a mistake, or, which is equally easy to God, He would have turned that filthy oil into honey."

And thus does the man behave who recognizes Divine Providence in all things. He does not take everything for the worst, nor does he seek for some one to whom he may ascribe his misfortune, but rather refers the sins of men to the Providence of God. Happen what may, he soothes the irritation by giving it a kindly interpretation.

5. And here, good reader, I would wish that one thing should be most thoroughly understood by you. It is a saying of S. Jerome, -----
"All things are governed by the Providence of God, and oftentimes that which is thought to be punishment is only medicine!" And here this wonderful circumstance is to be observed, that Divine Providence allows things to be borne onwards by their own impulse up to a certain fixed time. For it is the custom of Divine Providence gradually, and by the passage of time, to lead all things to their destined ends; for it orders the smallest as well as the greatest. And for this reason Epictetus, that glorious sun among philosophers, said,-----"Do not ask that whatever happens should happen according to your own will; but if you are really wise, desire that all things should happen as they do happen." It is a Christian and Divine saying,-----"Desire that all things should happen as they do happen." S. Basil also [Ad Eustach.] speaks in the same way:-----"Since things do not turn out as we wish, let us wish them to turn out as they do." And in the same way the Abbot Nilus says [De Grat. 29],-----"Do not pray that what you wish should come to pass, but rather pray, as you have been taught to pray, that the Will of God be done in you."

Jacob, the Anchorite, answering the devil when he was threatening him with blows, said, -----
"If it is permitted you by God, strike me. Why do you delay? Strike me, and I shall receive the blows as willingly as if I were struck by Him Who permitted me to be struck. But if it is not permitted you, you will not strike me, even though ten thousand times you show your fury." Thus, too, the Empress Irene, when deposed by her own servant, exclaimed,-----"I ascribe it to God that He elevated to the imperial dignity me an orphan, and utterly unworthy of it; but that He now permits me to be dethroned I ascribe to my sins; therefore blessed be the Name of the Lord!" Well, then, does S. Augustine say,-----
"Constantly believe in God, and commit yourself entirely to Him with all your power; and so He will not cease to lift you up to Himself, and will permit nothing to befall you, but that which will be for your profit, even though you know it not."