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 Ten: How Great Want of Trust in God is Yet Shown by Very Many

THERE was nothing which our Lord more frequently and more sharply rebuked in His disciples than want of Trust. Thus He often addressed them as "of little faith" [Matt. VI. 30]; "slow of heart" [Luke XXIV. 25]; "unbelieving and perverse generation." [Matt. XVII. 16] In various ways He tried them, that they might unlearn their want of Trust in Him. For what was the object of that sleep of our Lord in the ship? [Matt. VIII. 24] Or of that want of bread, and the question about providing food in the wilderness? [John VI. 5] Or of the sinking of Peter in the waves? [Matt. XIV. 30] Their want of Trust was set before them as a thing to be unlearnt. Now want of Trust manifests itself under various forms. There are some who distrust God because they think that He is too indulgent to their enemies and holds them under no restraint. Others are distrustful about obtaining from God what they ask, especially if on account of sins formerly committed, He should have denied them forgiveness, even when they sought it. Others distrust God, lest, perchance, He should withdraw the necessaries of life. This threefold kind of distrust separates many from God by a course of deception which is most subtle in its effect, and hurries them on to ruin. But this sin of distrust is the more harmful in proportion as it is less known. If, however, we search for the source of this sin we shall discover that want of Trust in God arises from the fact that man trusts too much in himself. How common, then, but fatal, a sin this trust in self is! I must now explain before we proceed to consider anything else.

1. Solomon rebukes with severity this trust in self, when he says, -----"He that trusteth in his own heart, is a fool." [Prov. XXVIII. 26] And therefore he admonishes us,-----"Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence. Be not wise in thy own conceit." [Prov. III. 5, 7] In good truth the first elements of folly are to believe oneself a wise man. But who is such a Phoenix as not to have a high opinion of his own interests, but think meanly of them, and not occasionally contemplate his personal graces, prowess, learning, or prudence with approving eyes, but regard them as his loss? "He that trusteth in his own devices doth wickedly" [Prov. XII. 2], and therefore God, in order to wrest this wickedness from us, often chastises us with severity, or when we prove rebellious, altogether cuts us off from Himself by His correction.

Goliath appears to me to have had such overweening trust in himself as if with his single breath he could scatter whole armies. And so when he saw David, the shepherd youth, advancing to meet him, he assailed so contemptible an adversary with a bitter taunt, and said, -----"Come to me, and I will give thy flesh to the birds of the air, and to the beasts of the earth." [1 Kings XVII. 44] But how soon was this self-confidence crushed! And who guided the stone so as with unerring aim to strike the forehead of Goliath but the Hand of God, which overthrew that haughty tower, not indeed with warlike engines, but with a single pebble?

Holofernes was equally confident in himself, and yet he was not of such estimation in God's sight as to fall even by the hand of a man; for a woman trampled all his arrogance under foot. Nabuchodonosor as "he was walking in the palace of Babylon, answered and said: Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built to be the seat of the kingdom, by the strength of my power, and in the glory of my excellence?" [Dan. IV. 26, 27] Alas, Nabuchodonosor! up to this time a hundred dishes were wont to be placed before you as a royal repast, but hereafter you shall be served with but one, and that a wondrous strange one, until you learn both to think and speak aright. But how will your breakfast taste to you? You shall eat grass as oxen, until you learn to be wise, and descend from your haughty pretensions. Your bath shall be the cold dew of Heaven; your hair shall be to you instead of garments interwoven with gold, and in place of nails you shall have the claws of birds. "While the word was yet in the king's mouth, a voice came down from Heaven: To thee, O king Nabuchodonosor, it is said: Thy kingdom shall pass from thee, and they hall cast thee out from among men, and thy dwelling hall be with cattle and wild beasts: thou shalt eat grass like an ox, and seven times shall pass over thee, "thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will." [Ver. 28, 29] Thus, then, excessive self-confidence changed him from a man into a beast; but hear how he changed again from a beast into a man, and learnt to trust in God and not in himself: -----"Now at the end of the days, I Nabuchodonosor lifted up my eyes to Heaven, and my sense was restored to me; and I blessed the most High, and I praised and glorified Him that liveth for ever; for His power is an everlasting power, md His kingdom is to all generations. And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing before Him: for He doth according to His Will, as well with the powers of Heaven, as among the inhabitants of the earth: and there is none that can resist His Hand, and lay to Him: why hast Thou done it?" [Ver. 31, 32]

A great evil was that confidence in self which impelled even the chief of the Apostles to his fall! Why, O Peter, do you weep now that the cock crows? It would have beseemed you to have wept before, when the Lord was uttering His parting words, when after supper was ended He made sad mention of His death, here indeed tears would have been well timed: but self-confidence then altogether quenched tears; and instead of weeping words of high promise were heard, -----"Although all shall be scandalized in Thee, I will never be scandalized." [Matt. XXVI. 33] But is it so? Will you never be offended? Only a few hours will pass by, and all this promise, arising from nothing but confidence in self, will collapse. S. Basil thinks that no one is overcome by any temptation, unless he trusts in himself more than is right. He, on the other hand, who really distrusts himself never thinks of undertaking anything until he has previously invoked the Divine Aid. Let no one, then, trust in his strength, or skill, or in a crown and riches, or in learning and wisdom. The occasion comes when all these collapse before a gentle breeze. "Thus saith the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the strong man glory in his strength, and let not the rich man glory in his riches." [Jer. IX. 23]

2. And not merely let not one place his hope and trust in himself, but neither in any other. Jeremias the prophet exclaims, -----"Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." [Chap. XVII. 5] And here Origen says, when explaining the words, "Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree" [Gal. III. 13]-----"I think that the meaning is the same as, 'Cursed be the man that trusteth in man.' For to hang on a tree is the same as to have one's hope suspended from a man, who is, as it were, the frail trunk of a tree."

It is the practice of hunters, when they wish to take an elephant, to set a snare of this kind. They cut through the centre of a tree against which the elephant usually rests when sleeping, but they leave it still standing, as if it were sound and untouched. When the elephant comes, according to his custom, to take repose, he leans against the part which has been cut in sunder, and thus the tree and the beast fall together with great violence. And numberless are the people who choose trees for themselves against which to rest. One person tries with the utmost pains to please a prince; another courts the favour of a rich prelate; a third insinuates himself into friendship with a great man; some try to obtain the goodwill of others by presents, while others try to acquire favour in various ways. O miserable ones that you are! you are only deceiving yourselves, and preparing all this for your own destruction! The trees against which you think that you will lean have long ago been sapped by a secret wound, when you little thought it, and soon they will fall, and with them all your hopes. Jonas made for himself a booth, and sat under the shadow of it, and he "was exceeding glad of the ivy." [Jonas IV. 6] Alas! for his short and empty joy; for his twining plant had two enemies, the sun and a worm, and thus in a single day all the pleasure of its shadow passed away. And now behold the world, I pray you, and you will find it full of shadowing plants like this; they flourish, indeed, for a short time, but destruction is ever being threatened by worms of various kinds. What a common error it is to rest on human favour! and would that even Religious persons would here forbear to be so forgetful of their dignity, and with hidden practices seek for favour! These are but shading booths which the various worms of envy, detraction, calumny, and death itself, gnaw, and scatter, and devour. Take the case of a household which reposes the utmost trust in its master; in a short time death hurries away that master, and where now is the shade of all the family? Another relies on a patron who is rich and powerful; the patron dies, or his riches and power are diminished, and so this man's ivy also withers away.

And thus Aman, who was the eye of King Assuerus, recounted to his friends and his wife, with great self-congratulation, "the greatness of his riches, and the multitude of his children. and with how great glory the king had advanced him above all his princes and servants." [Esth. V. 11] Oh! splendid shade. But full soon must it be ignominiously destroyed by the sun and worms. Aman himself was hanged [Chap. VII. 10], and his ten sons were put to death. [Chap.  IX. 14]


3. We must rely, good friends, on the bounty, favour, and power of God, and not on that of men. David exclaims, -----"Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men." [Ps. CXLV. 2, 3] And why, I pray, must we not trust in those who are possessed of the greatest power amongst us? The Psalmist mmediately adds the reason, "in whom there is no salvation." And for this reason must trust be reposed in none, even of the most powerful of kings, not even in the invincible Caesars themselves, since they also are only men. For why, O man, do you trust in a nan, in whom "there is no salvation?" "His spirit shall go forth and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish;" but "blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his helper, whose hope is in the Lord his God." [Ps. CXLV. 4, 5] The Holy Scriptures declare that trust in man is but a shadow; "trusting in the shadow of Egypt." [Isai. XXX. 2] What can be more fleeting, or more inconstant and deceptive than a shadow? And such is trust reposed in man. "Many seek the face of the prince: but the judgment of everyone cometh forth from the Lord." [Prov. XXIX. 26]

When Jacob was returning from Mesopotamia into Canaan, and was about to meet his brother Esau attended with four hundred men, he was afraid, and earnestly besought Divine help. God listened to his prayer, and promised him the fullest assistance, and yet He sent him away lame. [Gen. XXXII. 25] And what sort of help or Providence is this, you may ask? Jacob implores aid, and he is dismissed with his thigh out of joint! Is this the way to help, to make a man lame? Yes, this was in truth the very way to help him; for there is a time when wounds cause health, and temporary loss is gain; and there are many occasions in which we are overcome for our own good. And therefore God sent away Jacob with his thigh thus out of joint that he might learn, and we through him, not to trust in ourselves or our own strength, nor yet in that of others, but to rely on the power and g.oodness of God alone. But because the sound man trusts in his health, the strong in his strength, the learned in his learning, the rich in his gold, the wise in his wisdom, and because the poor man hopes to be supported by the rich, and the weak by the powerful, therefore God, in the perfection of His wisdom, frequently removes all these, that, when the props on which we used to rest are gone, we may learn to rest on God alone.

Gedeon dismissed from his standard twenty-two thousand men [Judges VII. 3], keeping with him only three hundred [Ver. 6], for so God had commanded him, "lest Israel should glory against Me, and say: I was delivered by my own strength." [Ver. 2] Benadad, king of Syria, reproaching Achab, king of Israel, with his weakness, threatened to destroy him utterly. [3 Kings XX. 1 and fol.] But these threats were vain, for although Benadad had brought with him to the war thirty-two kings, and an incredible number of horsemen and chariots with scythes, he was nevertheless routed in the very first battle, and a hundred-thousand of the Syrians fell in one day. And "they that remained fled to Aphec, into the city: and the wall fell upon seven and twenty thousand men, that were left." [V er. 30] This is how Benadad fared; let him now go and trust in himself and his own strength! That excellent King Asa, whom we can never mention without sorrow, exhibited great Trust in God, if it had only been constant. And this God most signally rewarded when he routed an army of ten hundred thousand men which Zara the Ethiopian had led out against him. [2 Par. XIV. 9] But alas! after passing so many years of his life in such an illustrious way, trust in human strength proved his ruin. And thus the prophet said plainly to him, -----"Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand." [2 Par. XVI. 7] And then followed a long series of reverses.

Admirably does S. Augustine say [In Ps. XXX. Exp. 2] ,"Thou hatest them that hold to vanity uselessly. But I, who do not hold to vanity, have trusted in the Lord. Thou trustest in money, thou holdest to vanity: thou trustest in honour, and in some eminence of human power, thou holdest to vanity: thou trustest in some principal friend, thou holdest to vanity. When thou trustest in all these things, either thou diest and leavest them here, or in thy lifeime they all perish, and thou failest in thy trust."

4. Moses was most beloved by God, but, because he twice sinned through want of Trust, he expiated his sin by death, and was only permitted to see that fruitful Land of Promise afar off. The first display of want of Trust was when, like a master of a household who is filled with anxiety about feeding his family, he began to argue and say,"There are six hundred thousand footmen of this people, and sayest Thou, I will give them flesh to eat a whole month? Shall then a multitude of sheep and oxen be killed, that it may suffice for their food? or shall the fishes of the sea be gathered together to fill them?" [Numb. XI. 21, 22] But this, O Moses, is to reason with your want of Trust, and not with Divine Providence. Is the Hand of the Lord shortened? [Isai. L. 2]

And this should have made Moses more careful for the future; but his want of Trust returned, and displayed itself just as on the former occasion, for when all the congregation were gathered together at the rock he exclaimed,
------"Hear, ye rebellious and incredulous: Can we bring you forth water out of this rock? And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: "Because you have not believed Me, to sanctify Me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring these people into the land, which I will give them." [Numb. XX. 10, 12] And therefore God showed to Moses, when he was about to die, that land afar off from the top of a mountain, saying,-----"Thou hast seen it with thy eyes, and shalt not pass over to it." [Deut. XXXIV. 4] Of so great consequence is it entirely to expel from the soul this plague of want of Trust, against which, as being so thoroughly opposed to God's glory, He exacted the severest penalties!

The children of Israel also sinned most grievously, and upon many occasions, through exhibiting afresh their want of Trust. Nor did any wonders or miracles avail their hands, they immediately relapsed into their former want of Trust, and affirmed that it could not be done. To such a pitch did this at length arrive that with continual murmurings they accused God, either of forgetting them, or caring not for them. And how wicked were those exclamations, -----"Would God that we had died in Egypt: and would God we may die in this vast wilderness, and that the Lord may not bring us into this land, lest we fall by the sword, and our wives and children be led away captives. Is it not better to return into Egypt? And they said one to another: Let us appoint a captain, and let us return into Egypt." [Numb. XIV. 3-4] And is it come to this, ye wicked ones? Just as if there were not everywhere a place for dying! But some may wonder, perhaps, why God not merely gave no wine to His Own chosen people, but permitted them also to want water! In this way their want of Trust was to be expiated. Why did he send fiery serpents against this same people, which not only bit so many, but also slew them? On account of their want of Trust. Why did He sometimes permit twenty or thirty thousand men to be slain in a single battle? On account of this same want of Trust. Why did He set before them warlike enemies, who were never entirely subdued? On account of the same want of Trust, which He could not extinguish in this murmuring people by any punishments, but it was ever bursting out afresh. At length,-----"The Lord said to Moses: How long will this people detract Me? How long will they not believe Me for all the signs that I have wrought before them? I will strike them, therefore, with pestilence, and will consume them: but thee I will make a ruler over a great nation, and a mightier than this is." [Numb. XIV. 11, 12] Upon this Moses pleaded with God on their behalf, and still the Divine Decree was,-----"According as you have spoken in my hearing, so will I do to you. In the wilderness shall your carcasses lie. But your children, of whom you said that they should be a prey to the enemies, will I bring in: that they may see the land which you have despised." [Numb. XIV. 28, 29, 31] And so the Divine threatenings were executed, for out of so many hundred thousand men whom God had brought up out of Egypt, not one so much as saw the fruitful land, for they all perished in the wilderness. Only Caleb and Josue, who had never cast away their hope of possessing that land, were allowed to enter it. In such a way were they to pay the penalty for their want of Trust! And yet after all this they ceased not from this sin, but repeated it afresh even at the very passage of the Jordan!

5. When the city of Siceleg had been burnt with fire by the Amalecites, and all the women and children had been taken captive, matters had come to such a dreadful pass that the people spoke of stoning David. But the greater was the want of Trust in the rest, the loftier was the confidence of David. He "took courage in the Lord his God." [1 Kings XXX. 6] Thus, then, conceiving the most confident hope, he pursued the enemy with four hundred men, and having found them "spread upon all the ground, eating and drinking," he "slew them from the evening unto the evening of the next day. So David recovered all that the Amalecites had taken." [Ver. 16-18]

Eliseus predicted, at a time of the utmost scarcity, that there would shortly be great plenty of corn. A certain nobleman of Samaria heard his words, and, mocking them through want of Trust, exclaimed, -----"If the Lord should make flood-gates in Heaven, can that possibly be which thou sayest?" To whom Eliseus replied,-----"Thou shalt see it with thy eyes, but shalt not eat thereof." [4 Kings VII. 2] And it turned out as the prophet had said, for that lord was trodden under foot of the people in the gate, and died. A worthy reward for his want of Trust! Of a truth "the thoughts of mortal men are fearful, and our counsels uncertain." [Wisd. IX. 14] But God knows all things alike, as well future as present and past. And yet because this abyss of Divine Providence is utterly secret, many people, when they perceive so many acts of wickedness remaining unpunished, and unseen, as it were, by God, and when also they see good men sorely scourged with troubles, precipitate themselves into the whirlpool of want of Trust, just as if God had no care for human affairs, since oftentimes no difference appears between the just and unjust. "All things," says the Preacher [Eccles. IX. 2], "equally happen to the just and to the wicked, to the good and to the evil, to the clean and to the unclean, to him that offereth victims, and to him that despiseth sacrifices. As the good is, so also is the sinner: as the perjured, so he also that sweareth truth." These things seem to us to happen at random, and by chance. And thus we are like a man who looks at a clock in a tower; he sees its face indeed, and the hands by which the time is told, but the clock itself, and its skilfully-constructed mechanism of wheels he cannot see. A child or an idiot might believe that the hands of the clock move by themselves, and not according to any fixed design, but by chance. The people, however, who live in that town know full well that this is not the case, but that behind the wall the works of the clock are concealed. And just in the same way the government of God is secret, but conducted on principles of most perfect order. We perceive outward indications of its presence in everything, but the marvelous mechanism we cannot see.

And this Horologe of Divine Providence has inscribed on its dial the hours of all men, even to the smallest seconds. Baltasar, king of Babylon, when drinking wine at his most sumptuous banquet, saw a man's handwriting upon the opposite wall. "Then was the king's countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him; and the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees struck one against the other." [Dan. V. 6] But what do you see, O king? Why are you troubled? Whose is this hand? If you know it, how is it that you do not also know the writer? But if you recognize neither one nor the other, why do you fear so exceedingly? The wretched king consulted all the wise men of the city about this mysterious writing, but none could understand it; all could see the face of the horologe, but none its interior works. Yet who could doubt that the hands were made to revolve by Divine Providence? Then came Daniel and proclaimed, -----"This is the interpretation of the word. Mane: God hath numbered thy kingdom, and hath finished it." [Ver. 26] The last hour of your life, O king, is come, it is even now hastening to its end. Therefore, make haste to live; the last moment of the clock is passing away. And how did Daniel know this? He saw it on the Horologe of Divine Providence.

6. Hence it appears that all the affairs of men, whether they be adverse or prosperous, are most accurately and exactly inscribed on this Horologe of Divine Providence, which cannot be so deceived in even the minutest point as not to cause all things to be directed to the end which is most expedient. "One jot or one tittle shall not pass." [Matt. v. 18] "Neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said." [Gen. XXVIII. 15] But if we trust a clock which has a most skilful workman to attend to its mechanism, what folly and madness it is sometimes to find fault with that Horologe of the universe, which cannot err, and wherein all events are most admirably ordered? "But Thy Providence, O Father, governeth it: for Thou hast made a way even in the sea, and a most sure path among the waves. Shewing that Thou art able to save out of all things, yea though a man went to sea without art." [Wisd. XIV. 3, 4] When excellent men, however, are oppressed and afflicted, while the wicked flourish, and bring all their undertakings to a prosperous issue, Divine Providence seems to sleep, or to wink at this. And this thought has sometimes disquieted even the saintliest of men; but their disquietude is our instruction and confirmation. David says of himself, -----"But my feet were almost moved; my steps had well-nigh slipped. Because I had a zeal on occasion of the wicked, seeing the prosperity of sinners. They are not in the labour of men: neither shall they be scourged like other men. And I said: Then have I in vain justified my heart, and washed my hands among the innocent." [Ps. LXXII, 2, 3, 5, 13] David evidently thought that he could discover the reason for this, for he says,-----"I studied that I might know this thing, it is a labour in my sight: until I go into the sanctuary of God, and understand concerning their last ends." [Ver. 16, 17] We shall one day know all this in Heaven, but now we must not attempt to find it out. "Thou indeed, O Lord, art just, if I plead with Thee, but yet I will speak what is just to Thee: Why doth the way of the wicked prosper: Why is it well with all them that transgress, and do wickedly? Thou hast planted them, and they have taken root: they prosper and bring forth fruit: Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins." [Jer. XII. 1, 2] And in the same way Habacuc complains [Chap. 1. 13, 14],-----"Why lookest Thou upon them that do unjust things, and holdest Thy peace when the wicked devoureth the man that is more just than himself? And thou wilt make men as the fishes of the sea, and as the creeping things that have no ruler." But all such complaints arise from our seeing only one part of Divine Providence; the other is entirely hidden from our eyes, and yet, when the manifestation of an event should be waited for until the day of judgment, we nevertheless pass a rash judgment before that day. And therefore S. Paul says [1 Cor. IV. 5]:-----"Therefore judge not before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts."

Hereafter, when we shall see not merely the face of that great Horologe, but the very works themselves of Divine Providence, and it will be permitted to us to inspect them all, then each person will behold most clearly the courses of all ages, and the events of his own life, and then will be seen with what wonderful Providence God has governed all men, individually and collectively, and with what fatherly care He has ordered every moment of each person's life for their good and salvation, and has never allowed anything to happen to anyone which might not help towards this end. Then it will be seen why God permitted the Angels to be tast down from Heaven, and the first Pair to fall. Why He chose the Jews, a stubborn nation, to be His Own people, while he rejected the rest of mankind. Why He has decreed that some should be born of Christian parents, while He has permitted others to be born among idolaters. Why He has early delivered one person from all kinds of sorrows, while He has allowed another to grow old in calamity and die in it. Then whatever has been patiently endured for love of Christ will be of priceless value. Whoever seriously reflects on this, salutes with a reverent kiss the sceptre of Assuerus [Esth. V. 2], that is to say, every chastisement of God.