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 Five: Of How Many Kinds the Will of God Is, and In What Things Chiefly
It Requires that Ours Should Be Conformed To It

S. CYPRIAN, bishop of Carthage, a man of the greatest eloquence and holiness of life, as well as a most valiant Martyr, has made a kind of summary of what the Divine Will demands from its followers. They are words worthy of Cyprian, and they should be engraven in gold. And would that they were inscribed on all the churches and houses of Christians! Would that they were engraved also on their hearts, as a comprehensive account of Christian life and perfection!

   "The Will of God," he says [De Drat. Dam. 10], "is what Christ has done and taught. It is humility in conduct, steadfastness in faith, scrupulousness in our words, rectitude in our deeds, mercy in our works, governance in our habits; it is innocence of injuriousness, and patience under it, preserving peace with the brethren, loving God with all our heart, loving Him as our Father, and fearing Him as our God; accounting Christ before all things, because He accounted nothing before us, clinging inseparably to His love, being stationed with fortitude and faith at His Cross, and when the battle comes for His Name and honor, maintaining in words that constancy which makes confession, in torture that confidence which joins battle, and in death that patience which receives the crown. This it is to endeavor to be co-heir with Christ; this it is to perform the commandment of God, and fulfill the will of the Father."

   1. And of these we must specially store in our inmost mind the foIlowing,-----innocence of injuriousness, patience under it, preserving peace with the brethren, and loving God with all our heart. We wretched mortals often deceive ourselves here most grievously; we acknowledge the Will of God with the readiest affection when it rewards us, and loads us with benefits; but when it chastises us we turn away from it, as if it were not the Will of God at all: but as if men, animated with the most malignant feelings, had conspired against our welfare and name, so that they might either destroy us altogether, or grievously harass us, and this as if God either knew nothing about it, or certainly did not command it.

  This is downright blindness and madness. Are we to imagine that pleasant things only, and those which suit us are sent from Heaven? Nay, but sorrowful things also, and things which tend to our discomfort; nor is anything at all in this vast machine carried on, or disturbed, or thrown out of gear [sin only excepted], of which the cause and origin is not from that First Cause. Jeremias, in his lamentation, says,-----Who is he that hath commanded a thing to be done, when the Lord commandeth it not? Shall not both evil and good proceed out of the mouth of the Highest? Why hath a living man murmured, a man suffering for his sins?" [Lam. III. 37-39] How senseless and perverse is that man who believes that there is anything which God does not either send, or at least does not permit! Cassian  [Coll. III. 20] puts it most clearly:-----"It behooves us," he says, "to believe with unshaken faith that nothing at all is done in the world without God; for we must confess that all things are done either by His Will or Permission."

   The ancients fabled certain giants who attempted to thrust down the gods from their abode. Let us have done with fables; ye, O querulous ones, ye are those giants; for if all evils which afflict us here are not only permitted by God, but also sent upon us by Him, what are you doing when you chase and fight against them, but doing all that lies in your power to snatch away His scepter and power in ruling? All created things willingly obey, and submit themselves to that Supreme Law; while man alone, the noblest of all creatures, kicks against his Maker, and resists His Will. Why do we show our anger to so little purpose? Deaths of all kinds are from God, yes all, I repeat, all of them. If an earthquake has in one direction swallowed up some cities, it is from the Providence of God. If in another place a pestilence has mown down many thousands, it is from the same. If there is slaughter, war, tyranny, in this or that quarter, it is from the same. But, not to dwell on public calamities, if your enemy plunders you of part of your goods, if another assails your fair name, and a third injures you in other ways, it is all of God, Who not only permits, but also sends it upon you by His Divine Wisdom, that you may fully understand that all these things are sent upon you from Heaven. The Divine Will, therefore, not merely demands of us that we should be as averse to inflicting injury upon others, as if we were able to inflict none, but it also requires that we should so endure injuries inflicted by others, as to preserve peace with all men, even though they may not wish to preserve it with us.

   But that we may more fully understand the mystery of the Divine Will, let me briefly explain that which I have already referred to above.
2. According to Theologians there is a twofold Will of God. One of Sign whereby God commands, forbids, permits, persuades, or works anything; and this He declares by His laws and precepts. The other of Good-Pleasure whereby it is decreed what He wills in all respects to be done, either with condition or without it. He has willed to bestow eternal felicity on Angels and men, but on the condition that they do not resist His Will. Other things God wills without any condition being attached. Thus, as He has willed to create the Heaven and the earth, so He wills that the order and the government of the universe, whereby He disposes of all things with most consummate Wisdom, should be perpetual. And this Will of God no one can resist; it is subject to no laws; it does nothing at another's command; it obeys none. God Himself declares this by Isaias, when He says,-----"My counsel shall stand, and all My will shall be done." [Isai. XLVI. 10] "So shall My Word be which shall go forth from My Mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please." [Isai. LV. I I] But we, miserable servants that we are, whether we will! or not, must bear whatever God has decreed concerning us. We are all of us coupled to manifold troubles . . . With some the chain is of gold and loose; with others it is of vile metal and pinching. But what does it matter? The same bond surrounds us all, and even the binders themselves are bound. Life is altogether servitude; yea, and life is altogether punishment. We must, therefore, accustom ourselves to this condition  of existence, and complain of it as little as possible. And here it is a great comfort to know that God wills, it so; that it thus seems good to Him, and that there, is no one who can resist the Divine Will.

Queen Esther proclaimed this when she said,-----"O Lord, almighty King, all things are in Thy power, and there is none that can resist Thy will." [Esth. XIII. 9] And this S. Augustine also sets forth most excellently-----"These are," he says, "the great works of the Lord, wonderfully designed to fulfill all His Will, and designed with such a depth of wisdom, that, when the Angelic and human creation had sinned [that is, had done not what He, but what they, willed], even by that same will of the creature, whereby that which the Creator willed not was done, He fulfilled that which He willed, turning to a good account even the evil, as being Himself supremely good." Although, therefore, the wicked fight against the Divine Will, yet by their means God performs His Own Will, and turns their most perverse will to the best account. It is clear from what has been said that though God wills salvation for all, yet all will not attain to it, because they do not fulfill the condition which is required, being rebellious against the Divine Commands. And of these our Savior prophesied with severity when he said------"Not every one 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] A wise man early transfuses his whole self into the Divine Will.

   3. And this being so, we can do nothing better or more profitable than absolutely submit and conform our own will to the Divine, and say with Heli the priest,-----"It is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His sight" [1 Kings III. 18]; with Joab,-----"The Lord will do what is good in His sight" [2 Kings X. 12]; with King David,-----"But if He shall say to me, thou pleaseth me not; I am ready, let Him do that which is good before Him" [2 Kings XV. 26]; with Judas Machabeus,-----"As it shall be the Will of God in Heaven, so be it done" [1 Mach. III. 60] ; with Christ our Savior,-----"My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." [Matt. XXVI. 39] For if the Son was so obedient, as perfectly to fulfill the Will of the Father-----for, "I came down from Heaven," He says, "not to do My Own Will, but the Will of Him that sent Me" [John VI. 38]-----if this was required of the Son, how much less does it become servants to refuse to recognize His commands. Let us think it perfectly just that whatever from eternity has pleased God, should please man also. The soldier in camp, when he hears the signal for marching, collects his baggage; but when he hears the trumpet-call for battle, he lays it down, and takes up his arms, being prepared with mind, hand, and eye, to execute every order of his general. And so let it be with ourselves; and in this our warfare let us follow our Leader cheerfully and with a firm step, wherever He may call us. Whatever happens, let us bear it, not only patiently, but cheerfully, and let us rest assured that difficulties of all seasons are according to the Law of Nature. And as a brave soldier endures wounds, counts his scars, and, though pierced through with spears, still loves the general for whom he falls, so let us keep in mind that old precept-----"FOLLOW GOD."

    I have now pointed out how we are to arrive at a knowledge of the Divine Will. But it is not enough to know it; we must more closely unite our own will to it. But wherein this union consists I will set forth in the following Book.