The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 12. The First
The greatest privilege attached to virtue is the care which God exercises over those who serve Him. From this, as from a fountainhead, flow all other favors. Though God's providence is extended to all His creatures, yet He manifests a special care for His faithful servants. To appreciate the greatness and goodness of God's providence we must have experienced it, or attentively studied the Holy Scriptures, which, from the beginning to the end, treat either directly or indirectly of God's care for His creatures.
Throughout the Bible we behold two characteristic features: on the one hand God commanding man to obey Him, and on the other promising him, in return for this obedience, inestimable rewards. To those who disobey, He threatens the severest torments. This doctrine is so distributed through the Bible that all the moral books contain God's commands and promises and threats, while the historical books record the fulfillment of the same, manifesting how differently God deals with the just and with the wicked. All that God commands us is to love and obey Him, and in return He offers us inestimable blessings for this life and the next.
The most important of these blessings is the fatherly love and care with which He watches over His children. His solicitude for them exceeds that of any earthly father. What man ever reserved for his children an inheritance comparable to that of eternal glory? What man ever suffered for his children the torments endured by Our Saviour? At no less a price than the last drop of His Blood He purchased the Kingdom of Heaven. What can equal His constant care for us? We are ever present to His mind, and He constantly helps and supports us in all the labors of life. "Thou hast upheld me by reason of my innocence," says David, "and hast established me in thy sight forever." (Ps. 40:13). And again: "The eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers. But the countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil things: to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." (Ps. 33:16-17).
As the greatest reward of the Christian in this life is God's fatherly care, and as our joy and confidence must increase in proportion to our faith in this providence, we shall add here a few passages from Scripture in proof of this doctrine. In Ecclesiasticus we read, "The eyes of the Lord are upon them that fear him; he is their powerful protector, and strong stay, a defence from the heat, and a cover from the sun at noon; a preservation from stumbling, and a help from falling; he raiseth up the soul, and enlighteneth the eyes, and giveth health, life, and blessing." (Ecclus. 34:19-20).
"With the Lord," says the prophet, "shall the steps of a man be directed, and he shall like well his way. When he shall fall he shall not be bruised, for the Lord putteth his hand under him." (Ps. 36:23-24). And he says again: "Many are the afflictions of the just, but out of them all will the Lord deliver them. The Lord keepeth all their bones; not one of them shall be broken." (Ps. 33:20-21). This providence is still more strongly set forth in the Gospel, where Our Saviour affirms that not a hair of the just shall perish. (Cf. Lk. 21:18). Even stronger is His assurance expressed by the mouth of His prophet: "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of my eye." (Zach. 2:8).
Besides this care which He Himself has for us, "He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." (Ps. 90:11-12). Thus the mission of these pure spirits is to help the just, who are their younger brethren, to walk in the way of piety. Nor does their ministry cease at death, for we read in St. Luke that the holy beggar Lazarus was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. (Cf. Lk. 16:22). The royal prophet tells us that "the angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him, and shall deliver them." (Ps. 33:8).
We find another illustration of God's guardianship and defence of the just in the Fourth Book of Kings (4Kg. 6), where we are told that when the servant of Eliseus feared for his master, against whom the King of Syria with all his army advanced, the prophet begged the Lord to open the eyes of his servant, to show him that there were as many for Eliseus as there were coming against him. The prophet's prayer was heard, and the servants beheld the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire, and in the midst of them Eliseus. Does not the Holy Spirit will to teach us by these symbols the care with which God surrounds the just?
This protection not only delivers the just from evil and leads them to good, but turns to their profit the sins into which they are sometimes permitted to fall. For after a fall they acquire greater prudence, greater humility, and love God more tenderly for pardoning their offences and delivering them from their evils. Hence the Apostle tells us, "All things work together unto good" to them that love God. (Rom. 8:28).
And this protection God extends to the children of the just and to all their posterity, as He Himself assures us, saying, "I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands to them that love me and keep my commandments." (Ex. 20:5-6). His words are verified in His treatment of the house of David, for whose sake He would not destroy his posterity, though they several times merited it by their crimes.
No less striking was His mercy to the children of Abraham, for whose sake He repeatedly pardoned them. He even promised that Ismael, Abraham's son, though born of a bondwoman, should "increase and multiply exceedingly," and grow into a great nation. (Gen. 17:20). He protected even the holy patriarch's servant, whom He guided in his journey and instructed in the means he should adopt to procure a wife for Isaac. He is not only merciful to servants for the sake of a good master, but He even blesses wicked masters because of just servants, as we see in the history of Joseph, whose master God visited with prosperity because of the virtuous youth who abode in his house. Who, then, would not be devoted to so generous, so grateful a Master, who watches so carefully over the interest of His servants?
Numerous are the titles which the Holy Scriptures use to express God's providence. The one most frequently recurring is the sweet name of Father, which we find not only in the Gospel but also throughout the Old Testament. Thus the Psalmist says, "As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear him; for he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust." (Ps. 102: 13-14).
But because the love of a mother is
and more tender than that of a father, God makes use of it to express
care and solicitude for the just. "Can a woman," He says by the mouth
His prophet, "forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of
womb? And if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I
graven thee in my hands; thy walls are always before my eyes." (Is.
What sweeter or more tender assurances of love could God express?
And shall we continue blind to so many proofs of His tenderness? And not content with illustrating His love for us by that of a mother, He compares His watchfulness to that of the eagle, a creature noted for its devotion to its young, saying by Moses, "As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, he spread his wings, and hath taken him and carried him on his shoulders." (Deut. 32:11 ). Even more forcibly did Moses express the paternal goodness of God when he told the Israelites, "The Lord thy God hath carried thee, as a man is wont to carry his little son, all the way that you have come, until you came to this place." (Deut. 1:31 ).
As our Father, God does not disdain
us His children, His cherished children, as the prophet Jeremias
when, speaking in the name of God, he says, "Surely Ephraim is an
son to me, surely he is a tender child; for since I spoke of him, I
still remember him. Therefore are my bowels troubled for him; pitying I
will pity him." (Jer. 31:20). Let us ponder these words, which are
by God Himself, that they may inflame our hearts and move us to make
return for His affectionate tenderness to us.
It is an illustration of this same providence that God assumes the title of Shepherd. "I am the good shepherd," He tells us; "and I know mine, and mine know me." (Jn. 10:14). How dost Thou know them, O Lord? "As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father." (Jn. 10:15). Oh! Blessed care! Oh! Sovereign providence! What happiness is comparable to this?
Hear the prophet Ezechiel, speaking in the person of God, and beautifully describing His loving watchfulness over us: "Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and will visit them. As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered, so will I visit my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and will gather them out of the countries, and will bring them to their own land; and I will feed them in the mountains of Israel, by the rivers, and in all the habitations of the land. I will feed them in the most fruitful pastures, and their pastures shall be in the high mountains of Israel. There shall they rest on the green grass, and be fed in fat pastures upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my sheep; and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and that which was driven away I will bring again; and I will bind up that which was broken, and I will strengthen that which was weak, and that which was fat and strong I will preserve; and I will feed them in judgment" (Ezech. 34:11-17)–---that is, with great care and tenderness.
"I will make a covenant of peace with them," the prophet continues, "and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land; and they that dwell in the wilderness shall sleep secure in the forests. And I will make them a blessing round about my hill; and I will send down the rain in its season. There shall be showers of blessing." (Ezech. 34: 25-26). In what stronger terms could God express the tenderness of His love? It is needless to say that the flock mentioned represents the just, and the fat lands and pastures the spiritual riches and treasures with which God surrounds them. The Holy Spirit makes use of the same touching figure again in the Twenty-second Psalm, where the different offices of a shepherd are portrayed.
God is our Shepherd, because He guides us; He is also our King, because He protects us; our Master, because He instructs us; our Physician, because He heals us; and our Guardian, because He watches over us. Holy Scripture is full of these names. But the tenderest of all, the one which best expresses His love, is that of Spouse, which occurs most frequently in the Canticles of Canticles, though mentioned many times in other parts of the Scriptures. With this name would He have even sinners invoke Him: "From this time call to me: Thou art my father, the guide of my virginity." (Jer. 3:4).
But why seek in Scripture various names? Cannot every name expressive of good be applied to Our Saviour? Does not he who seeks and loves Him find in Him the fulfillment of all his desires? Hence, St. Ambrose says, "We possess all things in Christ, or rather Christ is all things to us. If you would be healed of your wounds, He is a Physician; if you thirst, He is a living Fountain; if you fear death, He is your Life; if you are weary of the burden of sin, He is your Justification; if you hate darkness, He is uncreated Light; if you would reach Heaven, He is the Way; if you hunger, He is your Food." (De Virg. L.3). Behold how numerous are the titles which represent this one and indivisible God, who is all things to us for the healing of our innumerable infirmities.
We have selected a few of the passages of Scripture bearing on our subject, to comfort the just and to win and encourage souls who have not yet begun to serve God. These consoling truths will support them in labor; will reassure them in danger; will comfort them m tribulation; will inflame them with love for so good a Master, and impel them to give themselves wholly to the service of Him who gives Himself so completely to them. Thus we see that the principal foundation of the Christian life is the practical knowledge of this truth.
What are all the promises of the world compared to the assurance and hopes contained in these blessed titles? How much reason have they to rejoice who are the objects of the love of which the Scriptures speak in such beautiful terms! "Be glad in the Lord," says the prophet, "and rejoice, ye just; and glory, all ye right of heart." (Ps. 31: 11). Yes, let others rejoice in honors, in riches, or in dignities; but you who possess God for your portion enjoy an inheritance which exceeds all other blessings as far as God exceeds all created things. "They have called the people happy," says the psalmist, "that hath these things; but happy is that people whose God is the Lord." (Ps. 143:15).
Why, O prophet? Because in possessing God all things are possessed. Therefore, though I am a king and the ruler of a great nation, I will glory only in the Lord. How, then, can men refuse to serve Him who is the Source of all blessings? "What iniquity have your fathers found in me," God asks by the mouth of His prophet, "that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? Am I become a wilderness to Israel, or a lateward springing land?" (Jer. 2:5, 31). If God complains so bitterly of the ingratitude of a people who had received from Him but temporal favors, how much more reason has He to reproach us, upon whom He has lavished so many spiritual and divine blessings!
If unmoved by the loving providence of God towards the just, at least be not insensible to the rigor with which He punishes the wicked, to whom His justice is meted out according to their own measure. For if they forget their Creator, He will forget them. If they despise Him, He will despise them. How miserable will their condition then be! They will be as a school without a master, a ship without a rudder, a flock without a shepherd. "I will not feed you," God says; "that which dieth, let it die; and that which is cut off, let it be cut off. Let the rest devour every one the flesh of his neighbor." (Zach. 11:9). "I will hide my face from them, and will consider what their last end shall be." (Deut. 32:20).
The just punishment inflicted by God on the wicked is still more plainly declared in Isaias. The prophet speaks of his people under the figure of a vine which has been carefully pruned and dressed, but has failed to bear fruit. God, therefore, pronounces sentence against it: "I will show you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be wasted. I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will make it desolate; it shall not be pruned, and it shall not be digged; but briers and thorns shall come up; and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it." (Is. 5:5-6). That is, God will take from man all the efficacious help and protection which he ungratefully refused, and will leave him to inevitable ruin and destruction.
What greater misfortune can befall a man than to be thus deprived of God's care in a world beset with dangers? With what arms will a creature so frail, helpless, and blind resist the attacks of the numerous enemies that assail him? Where will he find strength to resist them? Who will enlighten him, to enable him to avoid their snares? Without the Divine assistance, how can he avoid destruction?
But the punishment of the wicked does not end here. God not only abandons them to their weakness, but scourges them with His justice, so that the eyes which hitherto watched for their happiness now look unmoved upon their ruin. This God Himself tells us by the mouth of the prophet: "I will set my eyes upon them for evil, and not for good" (Amos 9:4)–---that is, the providence which hitherto watched for their defence will now work for vengeance on their crimes and disorders.
Even more expressive is the language of Osee: "I will be like a moth to Ephraim, and like rottenness to the house of Juda. I will be like a lioness to Ephraim, and like a lion's whelp to the house of Juda: I, I will catch, and go; I will take away, and there is none that can rescue." (Osee 5:12,14). Here also the prophet Amos, who, after telling us that God will put the wicked to the sword for their sins of covetousness, thus continues: "They shall flee, and he that shall flee of them shall not be delivered. Though they go down even to hell, thence shall my hand bring them out; and though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down. And though they be hid in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them away from there; and though they hide themselves in the depth of the sea, there will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there will I command the sword, and it shall kill them. And I will set my eyes upon them for evil, and not for good." (Amos 9:1-4).
Who can read these words, remembering that they are uttered by God, and not tremble at the misfortune of having an enemy so powerful and so relentless in seeking his destruction? What rest or peace can he enjoy who knows that God's eyes are upon him with wrath and indignation? If it be so great a calamity to lose God's love, what must it be to have His providence armed against you; to have turned against you that sword which was formerly drawn in your defence; to have your destruction now viewed without emotion by those eyes which formerly watched so solicitously for your welfare; to have that arm which hitherto sustained you now stretched forth to annihilate you; to have that Heart which in the time of your goodness breathed but love and peace fox you now filled with projects for your abasement; to have your shield and defence changed into a moth to consume you, a roaring lion to devour you? Who can sleep securely, knowing that God is over him like the rod of Jeremias to chastise him? Who can thwart the designs of God? What power can resist His arm? "Who hath resisted him," says Job, "and hath had peace?" (Job 9:4).
Numerous are the passages in Scripture in which God threatened the withdrawal of His providence as one of the most terrible punishments which He could inflict upon the sinner. "My people heard not my voice," He says, "and Israel hearkened not to me. So I let them go according to the desires of their heart. They shall walk in their own inventions." (Ps. 80:12-13). Abandoned to the desires of their corrupt hearts, they will proceed from disorder to disorder until their ruin is accomplished. What, then, is man without God, but a garden without a gardener, a ship without a pilot, a state without a ruler, an army without a general, a body without a soul?Behold, dear Christian, how God's providence encompasses you. If you are not incited to fidelity through gratitude for His paternal care, at least the fear of abandonment by Him should impel you to serve Him. For many are moved by threats and the fear of punishment, while they remain utterly insensible to the hope of favor or reward.