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: Conclusion

Chapter Eleven: That from the Knowledge of Divine Providence There Arises Great Trust in God,
and from this Trust Union with God and the Divine Will

JUST as in a golden chain link hangs from link, so from knowledge of Divine Providence springs Trust in God; and from this there very naturally arises conformity of the human will with the Divine. Show me a man who in all things recognizes the Providence of God, and trusts in Him, and I will also show you one who most absolutely yields himself to the Divine Will. In this way God instructs us,-----"That He might make known unto us the mystery of His Will, according to His Good-pleasure which He hath purposed in Him." [Eph. I. 9]; "That we may be filled with the knowledge of His Will in all Wisdom and spiritual understanding." [Col. I. 9] We may see this very clearly in the case of Noe.

1. Noe at first needed to be instructed concerning the infinite Providence of God, and therefore He explained to him most circumstantially for what purpose the ark was to be made, as well as its length, and breadth, and height; in what way living creatures of every kind were to be collected together in it, how the proper food for each was to be procured; and how he was at last to enter the ark when it was completed, together with seven human beings, his nearest relations, since God had determined to drown all that lived in the waters of the flood. From this Noe learnt the marvelous Providence of God, and on the knowledge of this Providence he reposed such entire Trust as to be fully persuaded that he and his would be preserved amidst the destruction of the world. And when this Trust had been conceived it was very easy for him to cause his own will to rest on the Divine Will, and to do everything according to its rule. Thus, therefore, he earned
-----the distinguished praise,-----"And Noe did all things which God commanded him." [Gen. VI. 22] And here it is very worthy to be noted that when Noe and those who belonged to him had entered the ark, "the Lord shut him in" [Chap. VII. 16]; and thus He may be said to have taken away with Him the key for opening the ark. But you may perhaps inquire, would it not have been better to have delivered that key to Noe, so that, when the waters of the deluge abated, he himself might open the door and go out? For this reason God willed to entrust this key to no one, but to keep it for Himself, that those who were enclosed in the ark might be let out by the same Hand by which they had been let in, and might not place their Trust in any other than the Author of their liberty and salvation.

And in the same way Joseph, the governor of Egypt, needed to be instructed by such marvelous changes of fortune, in order that he might recognize the Providence of God; and when he had learnt how ever-watchful Divine Providence was, he then needed to be inspired with Trust. On this account God permitted that the butler of Pharao should for two whole years forget the interpreter of his dream, though so earnestly asked to remember him [Gen. XL. 23, and XLI. 1], in order that Joseph might learn not to rely on the favour of men, but on that of God alone, to Whom alone he ought to refer the recovery of his liberty. S. Chrysostom [Hom. LXIII. in Gen.] admirably remarks upon this,
-----"Consider how that after the butler was restored to favour two years passed away. Joseph must wait for a fitting time, in order that he may be brought out with more distinguished honour. For if the chief butler had remembered him before the dreams of Pharao, and had obtained his liberation through his influence, Joseph's virtue would not perhaps have been so conspicuous to others. But now the Almighty and wise God knowing, like a skillful workman, how long the gold ought to be kept in the fire, and then withdrawn from it, permitted the chief butler to forget Joseph for the space of two years, in order that both the time for Pharao's dream might come, and that through the very force of necessity that just man should become known through the whole of Pharao's kingdom." And hence the devotion of Joseph to the Divine Will was so great that all the ills which befell him he ascribed to this alone.

Hence arose that noble speech of his to his brethren, when unfolding the mystery of the Divine Will he said,
-----"You thought evil against me: but God turned it into good, that He might exalt me, as at present you see, and might save many people." [Gen. L. 20] If Joseph had not so thoroughly learnt the mystery of the Divine Will, he would have ordered his brethren to be slain, and would not have loaded them with so many acts of kindness. And the same zeal for the Divine Will which was manifested by Noe and Joseph may be seen also in all men of saintly life. Concerning each one of them it may be affirmed, they "gave their own selves first to the Lord, then to us by the Will of God." [2 Cor. VIII. 5]

2. In the year 1095, when Pope Urban the Second had made a public address at the Council of Clermont in France, about the recovery of the Holy Land, the minds of all present were inflamed towards this sacred war, and they cried out,
-----"God wills, God wills." This was afterwards used by the entire army of three hundred thousand men as a watch-word, and particularly when the conflict was beginning, and the hostile lines were closing, the Christian soldier used nobly to cry out,-----"God wills, God wills!"

And as many of us, in truth, as are called by the name of Christ are marching to the Holy Land, even to the land of the living. Let us, therefore, excite our courage, and especially when dangers press on us, and when secret foes harass us, let us cry out with joy,
-----"God wills! Let us, then, play the man, let us labour, fight, and conquer: God so wills!"

S. Aldegundis, a most holy virgin, having made wonderful advance in virtue, was often refreshed with heavenly visitations. In the course of these a strange damsel, who seemed to have come from foreign parts to visit her, bade her ask what she would from God, for that she would without difficulty obtain her petition. Aldegundis immediately replied,
-----"This one thing I ask, that God's will may be done. My sole pleasure is the Will of God."

3. And what need is there of multiplying words? This was the absorbing study of all the Saints, to know Divine Providence, and to rise upwards from this knowledge to Trust in God, and from Trust to pass into sweetest union with the Divine Will; to act, in one word, in such a way as that their own will should esteem it a delight to be absorbed in God's Will. And he, in truth, who ever desires that the Will of God should be done is at the same time gratifying his own in all things. For what can withstand the man who, in place of his own will, recognizes the Divine? And hence arose that most laudable custom of the old fathers, in accordance with which they ascribed all things, however they happened, to the Providence and Will of God alone. The brethren of Joseph, who in other respects were rugged in disposition and wicked also, were nevertheless so far deserving of commendation that when they had found the money which they had brought for buying corn safely laid up in every man's sack, they were filled with wonder, "and said to one another: What is this that God hath done unto us?" [Gen. XLII. 28] The words "that God hath done unto us" are worthy of all observation. Which of us would not have said?
-----"It is a manifest act of deception. The Egyptians are seeking occasion to ruin us; this is done in order to furnish a false charge against us; unless the steward forgot the money through carelessness, by some chance or other, he must have hidden it in the sacks of corn. But what if he intended to return our money to us as an act of charity? What if in this way he designed to attract more buyers?" But they said nothing of the kind, but wisely exclaimed,-----"What is this that God hath done unto us?" Whatever error or fraud occurred, God caused it, and for us He caused it; the reason of all this is the Will of God, without Whose Permission not even a grain can fall from a mountain, a hair from the head, a leaf from the tree, a sparrow from the air.

4. Christ our Lord, being hurried away to the thought of the eternal Providence of His Father by an ardour of most perfect sweetness, exclaimed,
-----"Yea, Father: for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight." [Matt. XI. 26] Yea, Father; Thou hast done all things well, nor can any mortal find fault with anything in Thy Providence and Thy Judgments, for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight. And behold how sweetly are we instructed not to assign a limit to the Divine Power, not to pry into the Judgments of God, and not to examine His Decrees, but to acquiesce for this single reason, since thus it seems good to God. Our Saviour declares that THUS it seemed good to the Father; but why it so seemed good to Him He does not explain, since a reason is neither to be assigned to the Divine Will, nor to be inquired for. It stands for a thousand reasons that GOD SO WILLED. And therefore in all things which you either do or do not, which you either shrink from or endure, ever say, my Christian friend, after the example of our Lord,-----"Yea, Father. Yea, Father." Continue to say, even though it be repeated thousands of times a day,-----"Yea, Father." Utter this when waking or sleeping, in sickness or health, and even in death itself; just as if you were to say,-----"I can deny Thee nothing, O Lord, Thou knowest. As therefore Thou willest, disposest, ordainest, and permittest all things to be done, even so be they done, O my Father, and so be they done in me, and may nothing be done in me which in even the smallest particular is contrary to Thy most just and holy Will. Yea, Father; so be it done now, and always, and for all eternity."

And in this way one of the early Fathers was wont to pray,
-----"O Son of God, as Thou knowest, and as Thou wilIest, have mercy on me." And in the same way that writer, who was so devoted to the Divine Will [THOMAS A KEMPIS, de Imit. Christi, III. 17], exclaims,-----"So that my will may remain right, and firmly fixed on Thee, O Lord, do to me whatever shall seem good in Thy sight. If Thou willest that I should be in darkness, blessed be Thou! If Thou wilIest that I should be in light, still blessed be Thou! If Thou deignest to comfort me, blessed be Thou! And if Thou wilIest that I should be troubled, equally blessed be Thou forever! I will willingly suffer for Thee, O Lord, whatever Thou wilIest should come upon me. I am ready to receive alike from Thy Hand good and evil, sweet and bitter, joy and sadness, and to give thanks for everything that befalls me." This, my Christian friends, is really to pray with DEVOTION, and to act with DEVOTION.

Nor does the following prayer differ from the preceding:

"O good JESU, Thou didst so love me as to surrender Thyself wholly to the fury of murderers to be nailed to the Cross; and what great thing is it if I yield myself wholly to Thy Hands, not indeed like the hands of those cruel men, but those which truly belong to a Father. I am sure that all things tend to my profit. Deal, therefore, with me, O Lord, according as it seems good in Thine Eyes; for all things are Thine, neither is there anyone who can resist Thy Will, for Thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased Thee!" [Jonas I. 14]

Such were the prayers of the Saints under the elder covenant. In this way Tobias prayed,
-----"Now, O Lord, do with me according to Thy will." [Chap. III. 6] And thus too Judith prayed,-----"Let us ask the Lord with tears, that according to His will so He would shew His mercy to us." [Chap. VIII. 17]
5. And here you may perhaps object:
-----''If God wills that my parents should die, in what way can I will their death? And supposing that God should will that I or they should be damned, could I also will the same?" God wills that your father and mother should die, my good friend, not merely that their enjoyment of life should be closed, but that satisfaction may be made to His Justice, or that the order of nature should be preserved; and thus it is most fitting that you yourself should also will. And, in the same way, if God wills that you should be damned, He does not will it in order to bring evil upon you, but to punish evil, and maintain His Justice; so that it is right that you also should will that sin should be punished, even in yourself. Why, therefore, do we hesitate and adopt so many shifts? All created things obey the Divine Will, and man alone refuses. God regards the end which He has proposed to Himself and attains it; and we, too, shall attain our end if we recognize His Providence, and ever unite our own will to His. But, alas! how delicate we are, and how grievously do we mourn over calamities of all kinds! If God sends anything upon us which causes severer trouble than we are accustomed to, and from which the lower facilities of our soul recoil, then let us reflect that this is a most noble opportunity for imitating our Lord, and let us say with Him,-----"Not my will, but Thine be done." This is the way to commit one's self wholly to God's Providence and Will, that He should decree for us what, how much, and when He wills, and that we should make no reservations, nor give way to any contradictions.

And here let Ludovicus Blosius confirm this with his own words:
-----"Let man," he says, "everywhere forsake his own will and resign it to God, transfusing it wholly into Him, and uniting it perfectly to His Will. Never let him say with his mouth, or even with his heart, such words as, 'I will this; I will that not: I choose this; I reject that.' Neither in time nor eternity let him seek anything of his own,. but rejecting everything that belongs to self, let him spoil, as it were, and deprive himself of self, and die to himself, and all created things, in such a way as if he had never been created. But let him seek God everywhere, and His Honour and Will, in such a way as that even to his prayers and holy intentions he may unite denial and resignation of self; seeking not that his own will should be done, but the Will of God. Let him ascribe all that happens to him to that same Divine Will, and receive it purely from the Hand of the Lord, without Whose Providence not so much as a single leaf falls to the ground. Let him patiently and cheerfully submit to and praise God's Permission and Ordinance alike in prosperity and adversity, in losses, injuries, calumnies, reproaches, mockings, and contempt of self; in sufferings of body, in pangs of heart, in griefs, in desolation and internal woe, and in afflictions of every kind, believing that GOD BOTH WILLS AND IS ABLE TO PROMOTE HIS SALVATION BY ALL THINGS."

Caius Popilius was sent as an ambassador from the Roman Senate to Antiochus, king of Syria, to demand that he should abstain from hostilities against Ptolemy, king of Egypt. The king received him with great kindness, and offered him his right hand with every sign of friendship; but Popilius refused to hold out his hand in turn, and, assuming a look of dignity, replied,
-----"Let us lay aside our private feelings of friendship; business of the state now claims our attention, for the senate has passed a decree, according to which King Antiochus must either abstain from invading Egypt, or commence hostilities with the Roman people." As soon as Antiochus had read the letter of the senate, he said that he would confer with his friends; upon which Popilius replied,-----"The business admits not of delay; there must be no procrastination." And at the same time, with a stick which he held in his hand he made a circle round the king in the sand, exclaiming,-----"Before you go beyond this circle give me an answer which I may carry back to the senate." You would not have thought it was an ambassador who spoke, but that the senate itself was arrayed before his eyes, for the king immediately declared that Ptolemy should have no further cause of complaint against him. Then at last Popilius grasped his hand as that of a friend; and at the same moment overawed the King of Syria, and protected the King of Egypt. And that which befell Antiochus happens in our case; we wish to be friends with God, but we are not ready to transport ourselves into conformity with His Will. Therefore the Son was sent into the world as an Ambassador by the Father, and, drawing the circle of the Divine Will around us, said,-----"Not everyone that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doth the Will of My Father Who is in Heaven." [Matt. VII. 21] Behold, then, O man, in this circle you are enclosed, nor can you pass beyond it till you have declared whether you are willing to surrender yourself to the Will of God, or to live according to your own pleasure! If you love peace, if you desire not to be an enemy of God, if you hate impious war with God, you will immediately give your answer. But why, my Christian friend, do you try to avoid the question? Why do you deliberate? Why do you delay? This business admits of no hesitation. If you are really wise, you will imitate that king, and will reply with the utmost readiness,-----"O my God, I deliver my whole self absolutely to Thy most holy Will, and bind myself firmly to it, being ready both to do and suffer all things, to live and die as Thou willest. In all afflictions, however grievous they may be, Thy most just Will will be my chief consolation. This I set before myself as the one and only rule both of living and dying, The Will of the Lord be done! Let the universe be disturbed by tempests from every quarter, let armed battalions close in deadly fray, let fleets be crippled and destroyed by fleets, let the law courts ring with endless litigation, and still this is my chief business in life, to conform myself entirely to the one and only Will of God. And now I embrace and store in my inmost heart that most holy and Divine saying,-----
'The world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: 'BUT HE THAT DOTH THE WILL OF GOD ABIDETH FOR EVER.' " [1John II. 17]