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 Two:

Chapter Three: In What Way the Will of Man is to be Conformed to the Will of God

I HAVE spoken of the preparation which must precede this union of Wills, and also what sort of human will may be thought to be best adapted to conformity with the Divine. And now I must proceed to show how the will of man is to be conformed to the will of God in fact.

1. S. Thomas Aquinas says most admirably that all actions allied to virtue are on this account approved by God, if they are performed with the intention that the Divine Will may be obeyed; for there is no merit in spending even life and blood, unless it be according to the Pleasure of the Divine Will. Premen, a holy man, constantly admonishes of this, and says:-----"Never set up your own will against the Divine; but let your own will ever be most closely united to the Divine." But if this union is real, it is a thoroughly sincere agreement in all things with the Divine Will, which so instructs man that his constant exclamations are,-----"As God wills, so do I will. When it pleases God, then it pleases me also."

Ruth, who is deserving of all praise, when addressing Naomi her mother-in-law, said:-----"Whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there will I be buried. The Lord do so and so to me, and add more also; if aught but death part me and thee." [Ruth I. 16, 17] A man who is united in will to God thinks and speaks in the same way as of old Eliseus, when bidden to tarry at Bethel, said to Elias,-----"As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." [4 Kings II. 2] And this he repeated three times, intending to cleave as an inseparable companion to his master. Josaphat answered King Joram when he sought for aid from him,-----"He that is mine is thine; my people, thy people; and my horses, thy horses." [4 Kings III. 7] And in this way let us be joined to God with the closest affection, as Ruth was with Naomi, as Eliseus was with Elias, as Josaphat was with Joram. Let us say with strong faith,-----"Thy Will, O my God, is my will; Thy Heart is my heart; I am entirely devoted to Thy Will, O my God." And this union of his own will with the Divine let each person diligently cultivate in everything-----in affairs of business, in duties, in labour of all kinds, in sickness, and in death itself, ever acquiescing most completely in the Divine Decree, and having nothing more constantly in his mouth or heart than "Thy Will be done." For as all virtues shone forth more brilliantly during the agony of Christ, so especially His fervour in prayer. In the hour of His sorest need He exclaimed,-----"Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me: but yet not My Will, but Thine, be done." [Luke XXII. 42] There is not a better, nor a shorter, nor a more perfect form of prayer, nor one more pleasing to God and useful to man, than this:-----"Not my Will, but Thine, be done." "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Let the Will of God be done, even though the world should fall! S. Gertrude was accustomed to repeat three hundred and sixty-three times,-----"O my most loving JESUS, Thy Will be done." Cassian [Coll. IX. 20] asks,-----"What does it mean to say, 'Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,' but that men may become like Angels, and as the Will of God is fulfilled by them in Heaven, so all those who are on earth should do not their own will but His alone. No one, however, will be able to say this with sincerity but he alone who believes that God disposes for our good all things which are seen, whether they be adverse or prosperous, and that He is more provident and anxious for the welfare and salvation of His Own people, than we are for ourselves." And so, according to the meaning of Cassian, he who thus conforms his own will to the Divine dwells already in the entrance-hall of Heaven; for in Heaven assuredly the countless millions of the Blessed have but one will. And so Arsenius aptly replied to Marcus the Abbot, when he asked,-----"Why do you not come back to visit us, Father?" "I prefer," he said, "to hold intercourse with those who live above us, since they have all the same will, while among men there are almost as many wills as there is variety of countenance." He, however, who both in adversity and prosperity fashions himself according to the Divine Will, can well understand what the Psalmist meant in the verse,-----"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" [Ps. CXXXII. 1] And who are the "brethren" meant? Christ and the righteous man; for the Supreme King is not ashamed to own this feeling of brotherhood.

2. Of old, the Preacher, when about to speak on a weighty matter, said,-----"The eyes of a wise man are in his head." [Eccles. II. 14] But have fools, then, their eyes in their feet, or elsewhere besides their heads? The explanation of S. Gregory is:-----"He who fixes every look on God, and on the Will of God, is truly wise. However many eyes he has, he carries them fixed 'in his head.' "

Epictetus, that planet among philosophers in the age of Nero, Domitian, and Marcus Antoninus, lived wholly above fortune. An old woman was his only attendant; a single earthenware lamp [the whole of his furniture] sufficed for those Divine meditations of his. And this lamp was sold at his death for a thousand drachmas, that is to say, for a hundred gold Philips, in honour of the memory of so great a man. Lucian, who ridiculed all other philosophers, esteemed him alone. This Epictetus, I say, besides his Dissertations, wrote also an Enchiridion which is well worthy of immortality. This treatise contains so much of the spirit of religion, and of hidden wisdom, that you might think that it had been written by a man thoroughly imbued with Christian feeling. This little book will, at the Day of Judgment, put many a Christian to the blush for having written such filthy productions, and having lived conformably to his writings. But to return. This Epictetus, then, who reduced all philosophy to these two great heads, Sustain and Abstain; he, I repeat, philosophizes with almost Divine wisdom about following God's Will with all one's power. And here let me quote his words [EPICT. Diss. III. 26]:-----"My desire," he says, "I have yielded to God so as to obey Him. Does He will that I should be afflicted with a fever? I will it myself also. Does He will that I should become possessed of something? I myself also will it. Does He not will it? Then I do not will it. Does He will that I should die? Then I will to die. Who can hinder me, or force me, contrary to my determination?" And are you not sad, O rebellious Christian, do you not blush when you hear such words? And why do we, miserable mortals that we are, fight against the Divine Will? We are enclosed on all sides: if we refuse to be led, we shall be dragged, or forced along. Seneca [Ep. 75], speaking of perfect liberty, says:-----"Do you inquire what it is? Not to fear men, nor the Gods; not to wish for what is disgraceful, or what is in excess of propriety. To have complete mastery over oneself. It is a priceless blessing to become one's own." But no one can become his own who does not in the first place become God's in such a way as that he either wills, or wills not, all things with God. "The soul which desires to be master of itself must be entirely withdrawn from all external objects towards itself. Let it remove itself as far as possible from things which concern others, and devote its care to itself. Let it not feel losses, and let it put a favourable interpretation even on adverse things." [SEN. De Tranquil. 14] This soul begins to be its own; this is true liberty. And so S. Augustine [De Civ. IV. 3] says:-----"The good man, even though he is a servant, is free: the wicked man, even though he is a king, is a servant. He has as many masters as he has vices."

3. That most valiant hero, Judas Machabeus, in order to inflame his soldiers against the enemy, cried out,-----"Gird yourselves, and be valiant men, and be ready against the morning, that you may fight with these nations. Nevertheless, as it shall be the Will of God in Heaven, so be it done." [1 Mach. III. 58, 60] Joab, too, when about to engage in a very hazardous battle, said to Abisai, his brother,-----"Be of good courage, and let us fight for our people, and for the city of our God; and the Lord will do what is good in His sight." [2 Kings x. 12] It is of the utmost importance so to discipline the mind in all things as for it to ascribe every event to Divine Providence. For it not infrequently happens that men who are learned, wise, warlike, and holy, act both with bravery and skill, and yet without success; but this is no less to be ascribed to the Providence of God than the most prosperous event. And, for this reason, the Preacher says,-----"I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the learned, nor favour to the skillful; but time and chance in all." [Eccles. IX.

II] He calls that "chance" which seems to us to be such, but not to God. It is no uncommon thing, in truth, that an intelligent and industrious man should be disappointed of his hope; and this we esteem an evil chance. But S. Thomas Aquinas rightly affirms that it may be gathered from the words of the Preacher that nothing exists by chance, or without the Will and Foreknowledge of the First Cause. For chances are found in things amenable to time, and subject to human knowledge; but the Divine Power and Providence has foreknown all things from all eternity: it rules all things as the world rolls on, and directs them towards fixed and certain ends, whilst it has assigned a proper time to everything, and a due variety to human efforts, that even in this way those who are unmindful of Divine Providence may learn, from unexpected chances and adverse events, not to ascribe too much to their own powers, and assure themselves that all things depend on the Divine Pleasure. What then is Fortune, which was so much worshipped by the ancients? It is a fickle, but an empty, apparition from the lower world.

That Divinity which disposes all things for mortals, adverse and prosperous alike, according to its Will, is none other than the Providence of God. God, by means of His Holy Will and Providence, causes human affairs to revolve like a wheel in motion. Those conditions of men which are dark and uncertain He regulates Himself. "I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God besides Me. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord that do all these things." [Isaias XLV. 5, 6] Among the ancients Fortune was of two colours, for they molded her statue with a double face, the one in front being white and shining, while the hinder one was black, as became one in whose will rested the power of good and evil. But this is only the trifling of children. "Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from God." [Ecclus. XI. 14] Seneca [De Tranquil. XV] speaks to the point, when he argues with himself, and then disposes of his own objections:-----"There follows a consideration," he says, "which is not unreasonably wont to sadden one, and to lead to solitude,-----viz. when the deaths of good men are surrounded with so much that is evil. For example, Socrates is compelled to die in prison, Rutilius to live in exile, Pompey and Cicero to be assassinated, and so on. And, after this, what can one expect for himself, when he sees the best of men suffering the worst evils?" But listen to his answer. "What then is to be done? See how each of them bore his troubles: and if they were brave, then desire to imitate their courage; but if they died in a cowardly way, and like women, why, then nothing died. Either they are worthy to have their courage approved by you, or unworthy to have their cowardice imitated." And this is the self-same complaint about the prosperity of ,the wicked, and the troubles of the just, as well as of the early and painful death of the Saints, which is made by Job, David, Jeremias, Habacuc, and the other Prophets. But here Chance and Fortune have nothing which they can call their own. All such things are most wisely disposed, within certain fixed limits, by an All-Provident God.

4. When the children of Israel were about to attack the Benjamites, on account of their shameful deed, they consulted God as to who should go up first to the battle. "And the Lord answered them: Let  Juda be your leader." [Judges XX. 18] Joyful at the receipt of this response, and now all but certain of victory, they advanced against the Benjamites with a vast army, and with good courage, and yet they were most disgracefully routed, and lost twenty-two thousand of their men, who were slain in one battle. And a second time they consulted the Lord, intending to hazard another battle, and this time not without long prayer and fasting, for they went up and wept before the Lord even until even. And again the answer was,-----"Go up against them and join battle." They obeyed, and because they were now going forth to battle by the direct command of God, they promised themselves a most successful issue, and commenced the fight with thoughts fully bent on victory, and yet they were again routed and slain by the Benjamites as before, eighteen thousand men of Israel having fallen in the battle. And how was this? Twice did God command His people to fight, and yet in neither battle did they gain the victory, but lost forty thousand chosen men. Who can understand these commands of God? But a third time, "All the children of Israel came to the House of God, and sat and wept, before the Lord, and they fasted that day till the evening, and offered to Him holocausts and victims of peace-offerings. And they consulted the Lord, and said, Shall we go out any more to fight against the children of Benjamin, our brethren, or shall we cease?

And the Lord said to them, Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hands." [Judges XX. 26-28] And here it was easy for cowardice to have argued,-----"Twice already has the Lord induced us to fight, but each time with a most disastrous result; who, therefore, will rush any more to destruction? Let him fight who will, it is safest to remain quietly at home." But their trust in God prevailed, and this bade them have recourse to arms afresh, with a prosperous issue at last, for twenty-five thousand of the Benjamites were slain. And here there are two things very worthy of observation. First, the hidden judgments of God, which are not to be examined into by any mortal. Secondly, persevering trust in God, concerning which I shall speak further at the proper place. And in all these things we must look with unflinching and steadfast eye at the Will of God alone. Let no one be disturbed if an unfavourable result follows upon a good cause, or if the most excellent beginnings turn to an unlucky end. Disease attacks the most temperate, consumption the strongest, punishment falls on the most innocent, excitement on the most retired. And here we must acquiesce in the Will of God alone. In other things it may be lawful to say "still further," but in this, "no further," "for it is God Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish, according to His good Will." [Phil. II. 13]
5. Pelagius, an ancient writer, relates how that one Joseph asked Pastor the Abbot the following question:
-----"Tell me, Father, how can I become a monk?" To whom he replied,-----"If you desire to find rest in this world and the next, say upon all occasions, Who am I that I should prefer my own will or judgment to the Divine? Then take care whom you judge, for God has His Own Saints here in every condition of life." Most wholesome counsel indeed! God of a truth receives laws from no one, and renders to no one an account of His actions. Here, therefore, let the wisdom of all men keep a profound silence, and let it everywhere adore at a distance the indications of the Divine Will, because God will do whatever He wills, and His words are full of power, and no one can say to Him, Why doest Thou thus?

As it is usual in cities to regulate all clocks by one chief clock, so it is most fitting that we should regulate our little timepieces, or, in other words, each his own will, according to that Supreme and Heavenly Horologe of infinite magnitude, that is to say, according to the Divine Will. But, in order that we may fully see how the human will is to be united to the Divine, behold a most illustrious example of such a union. Francis Borgia, Duke of Gandia, passed two-and-twenty years with his wife Leonora in wonderful happiness. But when she fell sick, because he saw that he was about to be deprived of half of himself, he devoted himself very earnestly to prayer [inviting also the intercession of good men], as well as alms and fasting. Upon one occasion he entered his chamber alone, when all witnesses had been removed, and earnestly besought God with plentiful tears that He would grant that his wife should recover her health and live, when behold! he distinctly heard a voice within, as he himself related afterwards, which said,-----"lf you desire that your wife should live longer, let it be as you will; but it is not good for you." And being troubled at this, he doubted not but that it was the Voice of God, and that he was being silently rebuked for asking that of which he was ignorant. And so, bursting into tears again, he poured forth these words from his inmost heart,-----"Whence is it, O Lord my God, that Thou committest to my will that which is in Thy Power alone? It is of the highest consequence to me to follow Thy Will in all things. For who knows better than Thou, O my God, what would come from my request? And, therefore, Thy will be done; and not merely concerning my wife, but concerning my children also and myself do Thou ordain, I pray, whatever is pleasing to Thee. Thy Will be done." It was noticed at that time that the disease of his wife remained at such a critical point that the physicians were doubtful whether she would grow better or worse, but that after this prayer it began to be past all hope.

6. And thus in all circumstances, however perplexing, our own will is to be conformed to the Divine. And behold another example of this conformity, much more remarkable than the former! King David, the son of Jesse, had united his will to the Divine by so close a bond of agreement, that God declared, as if congratulating Himself on such a man,-----"I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My Own Heart, who shall do all My Wills." [Acts XIII. 22] "I have found," He says, as if He had sought anxiously, and had waited a long time, until He had found him. And this commendation, awarded by God to the king at Hebron, surpassed all his other titles of honour.

Christ, Who was perfectly obedient to His Father in all things, has encouraged us to this virtue by His Own example:-----"Because I came down from Heaven," He says, "not to do My Own Will, but the Will of Him that sent Me." [John VI. 38] And,-----"My meat is to do the Will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect His work." [John IV. 34] And lest perchance anyone should complain,-----"He spares His son, but a servant He spares not;" behold! the Son is before us! And see what commands the Father is about to lay upon Him! Not even the lowest of servants would perform commands of the same kind!

Upon which one of you, O ye willful ones, has He enjoined such toil as upon the Son? Whom has He ever exposed to such mockings, and false accusations, and sufferings, as the Son, Who was obedient to the Father, even to the Hall of Pilate, even to the cruel Pillar of Scourging, even to the Hill of Golgotha, even to the most shameful Cross and most painful Death, even to the Sepulchre which was not His Own, even to the Prison of departed souls? For this, He proclaims, I came down from Heaven, that I might submit Myself most perfectly to this Will of My Father. What, then, shall servants do, if the Son did this? And so our Lord, summing up all His precepts under one head, says,-----"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]
He who has so disciplined himself as most thoroughly to yield himself to the Divine Will begins already to dwell on the summit of a mountain inaccessible to danger, and has beneath his feet clouds, and storms, and lightnings, and every disturbance of the elements, and all the changes of this mortal life; and there he is placed beyond the reach of all fear, except it be that he fear this alone,
-----that he be not united closely enough to the Divine Will, and so he exclaims without ceasing,-----"Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven!"