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 Two: What Kind of Human Will is Most Suitable
to This Conformity with the Will of God

IN order that young maidens might be sought for king Assuerus, the most comely that could be
found were gathered together from all provinces of the kingdom to Sufa the palace; and a year was to be spent by them on nothing else but the adornment of their body. And what purifications with unguents, and with sweet odours, and with other things, were there not! How much care and expense were lavished on adorning the person! So great a thing was it esteemed to find favour in the eyes of the king! And should not the human will, destitute of all preparatory adornment, fear to rush, like a country-woman fresh from the fields, into the embrace of the Supreme King? Let the will of man know that it can then only find favour in the Divine Eyes, if it tries, not merely to remove from itself even the smallest blemishes, but likewise to furnish itself with such adornments as may attract the Divine Will to union with itself. And, therefore, for the sake of preserving a proper arrangement, and avoiding obscurity, I propose so to treat the subject as to apply to the Will different names by way of titles, so that it may learn from these what sort of preparation is needed for this conformity to the Divine Will. When a master is going to receive a new servant into his house, he makes many stipulations, and says to him,-----"I wish that my servant should not be a tale-bearer, nor given to finery, nor a gambler, nor quarrelsome, nor a drunkard; but it is all important that he should be active, honest, and obedient." And if it is the privilege of a master to lay down rules of this kind for his servants, why should not God have the same right, when about to admit the human will into friendship with Himself?

 Therefore let the will of man know that it must now live according to different laws, and chiefly these that follow:-----
I. Let the Will be pure. This is above all things needful, for the Heavenly Spouse is of such purity
that He both hates and banishes from His Presence everything that defiles. It is necessary, therefore, that the will which is to be united to Him should also hate every kind of impurity. And it must do this so thoroughly as not merely not to encourage avarice, not to indulge in luxury, not to give way to anger, but even if it feels the smallest leaning and affection towards these polluting habits, at once to expel them bravely, and not merely be unwilling to think of what is impure, but also willing to meditate upon everything that is the contrary.

But my business is not to speak of those things which are clear to every one. Another vice there is, of wondrous subtlety, but at the same time of the utmost quickness in its operation,-----Envy. From this let the will be pure, and let it keep itself from all contagion of this pest. Let the will which desires to be conformed to the Divine Will be altogether free from jealousy. Let it not be affected with envy at another's happiness, nor be oppressed at the envy of its own; for he who is truly united to God sees others abounding in Grace and worldly riches, and yet does not envy them, but, turning to God, says,-----"Dost Thou will, O Lord, that this or that man should be raised to wealth and honours, while I am left to pine away in contempt? I do not strive against Thee, O my God, nor do I ask of Thee a reason for it. Thy one and only Will is to me cause enough, and abundantly sufficient reason. For most sure am I that unless Thou didst permit it, and it were not for my good, no one would obtain from Thee that which, when Thou grantest it, is obtained with no trouble, and perchance with few words. But in other things also I know that it is by Thy Permission, O my Lord, that one man thus assails me, another deals with me thus, and another thus disturbs me. Never, so far as I know, have I injured them. But in Thy Will I find answer enough for this. Thou hast permitted it, Thou hast ordered it. Be they, then, Semeis to me, and let me be David, if it thus seem good to Thee, O my God!" S. Ignatius, the holy bishop of Antioch and Martyr, exclaimed,-----"I am Christ's corn, and must be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found to be pure bread." And thus, in truth, God prepares us as Lord's bread for His table. What have we, then, to complain of against men? They are the millstones which grind us the wheat which is spread upon them. And that we may cause this thought to sink down deeply into our soul it will be advisable every hour several times to raise our heart towards God by repeating such little prayers as,-----''Blessed be God for ever! Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Thy Will be done!" This is the first step in the preparation of the human will-----that it should be pure from blemishes, especially from all grudging and envy. But besides this there must be,-----

2. A Patient Will. When anyone is harassed by adversity let him seek all his help from patience, and say with calmness,
-----"Whatever I suffer is all from God; but is sent upon me from God by means of this occasion, this man, or this cause; and I am as sure of this as I know I am alive." And here very many come to a standstill, from not having such a firm faith in God as to feel certain that adverse things and all untoward events come from Him, just as much as prosperity and the successes which they have most ardently wished for. If we held this as certain, which in itself is perfectly certain, we should not be so prone to bear things with impatience or objection, nor should we so often need to be urged forward with these words,-----"O ye of little faith." But that adversity of all kinds, by whomsoever brought about, comes down to us from God, Christ declares when He says,-----"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, better are you than many sparrows." [Matt. X. 29-31] Does God, then, fall to the ground with an insignificant sparrow? Certainly the Will of God does, and why not God Himself? Who, as He works without ceasing in all created things, swims likewise with the fish, flies with the bird, crawls with the serpent, and walks with the four-footed animal. God forsakes not what He has made. Although, therefore, so many thousands of larks are so often caught at the same time in nets, yet none of these, no, not even the smallest, is taken without the Will of God,-----"Not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father." But, as far as concerns the all-provident Will of God, the same rule applies to the eagle, and the sparrow, and man. If, therefore, not one of the smallest birds falls into the fowler's net without the Will of God, do you think that you, O man, who were made in the Image of your Creator, an heir of the Kingdom, are harassed by any adversity, or afflicted with any injury, loss, or grief, unless God specially wills it? But that we might understand this more fully, and might never rashly say that God shows this care towards things with life only, our Saviour added,-----"The hairs of your head are all numbered." Who could ever count the number of his hairs? And yet God numbers the hairs not only of one man but of all men, and without His Will not a single one can be taken away. Whenever, then, in seasons of adversity we cast away our patience, or utter imprecations against others, or fasten the blame on this or that person, and scatter our reproaches broadcast, we display a very great want of faith. Through a deceptive piety, in sooth, we shrink from making God the Author of those things which we call evils. S. John was the only one who recognized Christ on the sea, while the other disciples knew Him not, and exclaimed,-----"It is the Lord." [John XXI. 7] And so there are very many persons who amid the waves of troubles do not acknowledge that God is the cause of the sea being stormy, but are beyond measure exasperated against those whom they consider enemies, and say,-----"That is a paltry fellow; this is an idle rascal; that is a rogue; this a night prowler; this is a perfect monster of wickedness who devised mischief against me; through that most abandoned of men this blame has fallen upon me." But far differently is the PATIENT WILL accustomed to speak,-----"All this evil," it confesses, "is from God. Most justly does God chastise me. It is the Lord, let Him do what is good in His sight."
[1 Kings III. 18]

3. A Cheerful Will. This disposes a man to be perfectly contented as well with food as with all other things which he daily receives from the Hand of God. Such a man as this says,-----"Whatever Thou givest me, O my God, is enough, even though it oftentimes seems too little for my greediness; nor have I in any way deserved it. Thou art too bountiful towards rot.  I feel that I am undeserving even of the air I breathe."

He who desires to conform himself to the Divine Will is accustomed never to complain. No one will ever hear from him such lamentations as
-----''I can scarcely earn my livelihood, while others fare luxuriously, and yet do not toil half as much as I do. They sow little, and yet reap abundant crops." Well indeed did the Bard of Venusium long ago ask the question [HOR. Sat. I. 1]:------How comes it, Mæcenas, that no one lives contented with the lot which either reason has assigned him, or chance has placed in his way, but praises those who are engaged in pursuits different from his own?" This is the reason, my good Poet, this is the reason, that we so slowly acquiesce in the Divine Will,-----our covetousness hurries us first in one direction, then in another, and often to distant objects, nor is there any limit to our desires; but when we do not obtain what we have set our affections on, we give ourselves up to lamentations and murmurings. That is but a narrow mind which earthly things so much delight.

Let the Heliotrope be constantly before our eyes, of which Pliny elegantly writes [Nat. Hist. XXII. 21]: ----- "I have often spoken of the wonderful property of the Heliotrope, which turns itself round with the sun, even on a cloudy day; so great is its love of that luminary. But at night it closes its azure flower, as if from missing its rays." Observe, my friend, that the Heliotrope even of a cloudy day turns itself round with the sun, through love of it. The Will of God is our sun. It is not indeed always shining upon us in a cloudless sky; stormy days, accompanied with rain, and wind, and hail, are mingled with fair-weather days. There is no Christian who does not very often experience this heaviness of the atmosphere and stormy seasons.

But let us, like the Heliotrope, turn ourselves round with our sun, the Divine Will, even on cloudy days, so great let our love of that our luminary be. And it is certain that no tranquillity will ever fall to our lot, but numberless things will disquiet us on all sides; we shall be satisfied with nothing, we shall never be contented with our lot, everything will seem to be wanting, although everything is present; we shall never be free from fear, and shall frequently be overcome with weariness, disturbed in mind, timid and irresolute, full of complaints and jealousy; in a word, we shall always be unhappy, as long as we have not turned ourselves round, like the Heliotrope, to this sun, viz. the Divine Will. This sun must ever be gazed upon by us with fixed and unshrinking eye, in whatever direction its course may bend; and this one thing must we ever resolve in our mind,-----"As it pleases God, so does it please me. The Will of God alone is to me the rule of life and death. As it hath pleased the Lord so is it done, and so shall it be done. Blessed be the Name of the Lord." Now, indeed, our sun is hidden by a cloud, but soon it will show its bright face through this mist of sorrow. Look at the course of ages, and see how variously things turn out!

How often are there cloudy days after a fair sunrise, and how often do fine days follow upon cloudy mornings! Let us, then, dispose our minds in such a way as that before every event we should wish for nothing more than to follow the Divine Will. Once upon a time a certain learned Jew, who, it must be confessed, was ready enough with words, when intending to devote himself to Christ, said-----"Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou shalt go." [Matt. VIII. 19] And so let us, being perfectly ready to obey every indication of the Divine Will, both in word and deed, follow it whithersoever it may go.

4. A Persevering, Long-suffering Will. We impair nearly all our virtues through want of Perseverance. The children of Israel being tired out with the stay of Moses on the Mount, turned to idols, and made a golden calf for a god, excusing themselves by his long absence. Thus also those two travelers when going to Emmaus said, "Besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done." [Luke XXIV. 21] It is, indeed, the third day, but is the third day yet passed? Is there no time left for Him to rise again from the dead? Is your patience so entirely worn out?

If this third day had passed, and if the fourth or fifth had come, you might be thought to have reason to despair; but since you have not yet reached the evening of this third day, why do you so rashly despair of your rising Lord?

In our prayers we are only too impetuous, and unless that which we ask is immediately granted we plunge all our hope into impatience, or even into despair. But it is far otherwise with God:-----"The Lord is compassionate and merciful; long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy" [Ps. CII. 8]; "Neither will God have a soul to perish, but recalleth, meaning that he that is cast off should not altogether perish." [2 Kings XIV. 14] A miser before he spends a piece of money turns it over twice or three times in his hand, and so God, Who is slow to punish, "recalleth" as it were, before He smites anyone with a sentence of judgment, and casts him down to Hell. But we, who are both of small faith and scanty hope, if twice or thrice we have asked for anything from God, and have not obtained our request, cast away all our trust, like beggars, who, if they have several times sought for alms before a house with clamour and knocking, but have not been attended to, say,-----"No one is at home." Knock, ye idle ones, knock! this door is opened to those who knock. In other things what resolute perseverance do we often show! Some seek for an office for a number of years, and very often in vain. With what consummate patience is a rich inheritance waited for! And that the heir may not feel the delay too keenly he comforts himself with the reflection that time quickly passes. And yet we fix limits to the Divine Decree, and prescribe to it a time! The helping Hand of God delays too long for us in disease; and we cry out:-----"When wilt Thou come, O Lord? Why dost Thou delay? Why dost Thou put off assistance? How long must Thou be entreated? For how many years have I been crying, and yet Thou hearest not! Unless Thou, O Lord, dost succour me this year I will cease to pray, and think it useless."


And in this we certainly are not unlike the citizens of Bethulia, who said to Ozias and the chief of the city:-----"God be judge between us and thee, for thou hast done evil against us, in that thou wouldst not speak peaceably with the Assyrians, and for this cause God hath sold us into their hands. And therefore there is no one to help us, while we are cast down before their eyes in thirst, and sad destruction. And now assemble ye all that are in the city, that we may of our own accord yield ourselves all up to the people of Holofernes." [Judith VII. 13-5] O ye faint-hearted ones! Must your city, then, be surrendered in despair to the enemy? And is there no help to be looked for from Heaven? But Ozias the priest did little to revive the patience of the citizens which had already died out, when, in the midst of his tears, he said,-----"Be of good courage, my brethren, and let us wait these five days for mercy from the Lord. For perhaps He will put a stop to His indignation, and will give glory to His Own name. But if after five days be past there come no aid, we will do the things which you have spoken." [Judith VII. 23, 24] But O thou priest Ozias, thy wisdom was not deeper than that of the multitude! Was it your part to measure out a time for God, and to appoint a day for Him to send help? Was not all persevering trust not merely dead among you, but also buried? But Judith, that woman of noblest spirit,  could not endure this, and having sent for the elders, she said,-----"What is this word, by which Ozias hath consented to give up the city to the Assyrians, if within five days there come no aid to us? And who are you that tempt the Lord? This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but rather that may stir up wrath, and enkindle indignation. You have set a time for the mercy of the Lord, and you have appointed Him a day, according to your pleasure." [Judith VIII. 10-13] And what then, O Judith, do you advise to be done? "Let us ask the Lord with tears, that according to His Will, so He would shew His mercy to us." [Judith VIII. 17]
In such a way, then, the Persevering Will unites man to God, that however much he may be afflicted, he exclaims,-----
" According to Thy Will, O Lord, do Thou deal with me in Thy Mercy. Although I have cried to Thee, O Lord, for ten, twenty, thirty, or fifty years, yet will I not cease to cry. I place no limits to Thee: and although I were sure that I should not be heard by Thee at all, yet unswerving faith teaches me that I shall not be sent away from Thee empty. If Thou deniest what is asked, Thou wilt give better things. Therefore, if Thou makest any delay, I will wait for Thee, because Thou wilt surely come, and wilt not be slack." [Hab. II. 3]
5. An Ardent Will. This means not merely to will or not will that which God wills or wills not, but solely on account of His not willing or willing, to reject the former and to accept the latter with ardent desire, and to have no other reason for doing one thing and leaving another undone, than the Divine Good pleasure. If one were to question a man possessed of such a will as to why he does not will one thing bu does will another, he will reply that he has no other reason than that he finds that God does not will the one, and does will the other. "I love," says S. Bernard, "because I love, and I love that I may love, for He Who is loved is Love." S. Augustine counsels us that we ought to feel that as God has willed thai all things should exist on account of Himself, so we also should will that neither we ourselves nor anything else should exist, except on account of God and His Will.

When the Old Law was still in force, God willed that every article dedicated to the Altar and Tabernacle should be wrapped in a violet covering, and that when so concealed it should be borne by Levites. The command runs thus:-----"All the vessels wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, they shall wrap up in a cloth of violet, and shall spread over it a cover of violet skins, and put in the bars." [Numb. IV. 12] And this was done for the reason which is added-----that "they shall not touch the vessels of the sanctuary, lest they die." [Ver. 15] The bearers of the holy vessels, therefore, saw none of those things which they carried, but only felt the weight of them, for the covering of violet concealed everything from their eyes.

And just in the same way everyone who has wholly dedicated himself to God is most sweetly ignorant, and does not so much as desire to know why this or that is permitted or commanded by God. Whatever the burden may be, he takes it on willing shoulders. It is enough for him to see that burden concealed by the violet veil, that is to say, clothed with the Divine Will.

6. An All-productive Will. By an all-productive Will, I mean that, which, like the most fruitful soil, brings forth all kinds of the holiest desires, and consecrates them as its first-fruits to the Divine Will. Here the lofty soul, and one which longs for Heaven, rises upwards; here sighs full of love, and overflowing aspirations soar on high, such as -----''O my God, how do I desire not only to endure great sufferings for Thee, but also to die for Thy sake, even by a painful death!" By means of such heavenward flights of soul God and man are united so closely in nearly all things, that, from this sweet agreement and consent, the most delightful communion of designs, and  intimate friendship, arise between them, till at length man can say in regard to all the events of life,-----"Yea, Father: for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight." [Matt. XI. 26] "If we have received good things at the Hand of God, why should we not receive evil?" [Job II. 10] And thus with unruffled calmness he receives all things, painful or pleasant alike, as from the Hand of God. And here it is wonderful to think how much light shone upon the old Philosophers. Epictetus [Ench. 15], one of their number, gives almost Divine advice when he says,-----"Never speak of having lost anything; but of having restored it. Has your little child died? He is only given back. Is your estate torn from you? But is not that also restored? Yes; but it was an unprincipled man who seized it, you say. And what does it matter to you by whose agency He Who gave it takes it back? As long as He allows the use of it to you, have a care for it as a thing which belongs to some one else, just as a traveler has of his lodging." And thus let the man who desires to be as closely united to God as possible reason with himself in reference to anything that is taken away; let him not regard the person who takes it from him, but God Who recalls His Own. Let him, therefore, repeat without ceasing these words of Christ's-----"Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight." Yea, my father; yea!

And here, good reader, attend, I pray you, to a short explanation of these Divine words. The Heavenly Father, addressing the Son of old by Isaias the Prophet, said, -----"I have given Thee for a Covenant of the people, for a Light of the Gentiles." [Isaias XLII. 6] Just as if He had said,-----"It is too little for Me that Thou shouldest bring the remnant of Israel to Me; but I will that heathen nations also should be taught by Thee." And these words of the Father preceded our Lord's Birth of the Virgin by eight hundred years.

This Decree, then, of the Father, proclaimed so many years before His Birth, the Son most cheerfully embraced, and answered that He willed the same as His Father. Therefore, S. Matthew [XI. 25] says: -----"At that time Jesus answered and said." And to whom did He make answer, when there was none who asked a question? He answered His Eternal Father Who so many ages before had addressed the Son. And behold how joyfully the Son embraces the Will of the Father, and says:-----"Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight." "Whatever Thou hast commanded shall be fulfilled by Me." But as the Heavenly Father spoke to the Son by Isaias so many years before He was born, and the Son made answer to Him, so God has from eternity spoken to each one of us; He has most distinctly and accurately ordained at what time each man should be born, and at what time he should die. He has provided every kind of help for obtaining happiness; He has foreseen what each man would think, say, and do throughout the whole course of his life and in what way he would receive the proffered help. Since, then, God has in this way addressed us so benignantly from all eternity, is it not most fitting that we also, each in his own time, should answer with Christ,-----"Yea, Father; yea, my Father, since thus, and thus, and thus it seemed good in Thy sight, yea, Father?" And let us repeat, "Yea, Father," every hour, oftentimes renewing our desire; and let us continue this with unwearying perseverance, even to our latest breath. But more of this hereafter.