O God whose never-failing providence ordereth all things
both in heaven and earth, we humbly beseech thee to put away
from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things that be
profitable for us…
(Collect: Trinity VIII)
We concluded last week’s mediations with an exhortation to zeal. Having learned that the Divine desire for all men is that they faint not, but rather feed continually on the living Word of God, we opened our souls to the ongoing nutriment that overcomes sloth. I hope that we prayed fervently that the love of God might grow in us, grafting in our hearts the love of His name, increasing in us true religion, nourishing us with all goodness, and…keeping us in the same. In a sense, what we prayed for was that the same providence that ordereth all things in heaven and in earth, might rule and govern our lives zealously. Its actualization, we learned, would depend upon our willful desire and longing for its ongoing, effectual operation.
But what is this never-failing providence that we pray should overcome things hurtful to our pious zeal? Providence comes to us from the Latin providentia, and it means literally looking for or seeing into. In former times the word was used to describe God’s knowledge of all things –past, present, and future, in the eternal now of His perfect vision. Some theological controversialists used it to defend the Divine nature against the claims of others who maintained that God can and does change His mind. The doctrine of Divine providence insists that God knows every particular form of created life in all ages and simultaneously. Perhaps a simpler way of putting it is that nothing ever has or ever will escape His all-penetrating gaze and censorious vision and knowledge. Nothing escapes God’s seeing and knowing, because his never failing providence orders all things in heaven and earth. Whether men acknowledge it or not, God’s thinking of all things is present to and determinative of everything that ever has, does, or will happen. What happens in the universe is subject completely to God’s will at all times. Even evil itself –a rejection of God’s Wisdom and Will, much to its own rage and resentment, ends us having meaning only in relation to God!
We might find this view of Divine providence not a little bit intimidating. The all-seeing eye of God, the surveyor and judge, might startle and shake us. This is a good and healthy spiritual thing! Post-modern, materialistic Christians have become too used to treating God like the conceptual aider and abetter of temporary healing and earthly comfort. They gather and fancy presumptuously that God’s chief role and function in the universe is to overcome any physical or material impediment to human happiness and comfort. Of course, what they have forgotten is that familiarity breeds contempt. Spiritual familiarity –that tendency to presume upon God’s judgment of our condition, betrays an arrogance or hubris that can never admit of the need for Divine Grace and its promise of salvation. The so-called Christian who has become overly familiar uses God as a tool and instrument for fulfilling human desire over and against the Divine Will.
Such a spiritual disposition is not, of course, one that God intends for us to embrace. We do well to remind ourselves that God does see and know all things, and that His ever-present gaze sifts, weighs, and measures the devices and desires of [all human] heart[s], or the determinants and motives of men’s choices and voluntary acts. Not only does He see, but also He knows; not only does He know, but also He judges and discerns where men’s voluntary choices situate them in relation to His Divine Love. God is nothing if not fair. St. Paul reminds us: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal. vi. 7,8) What we will to think, say, and do shall, in the end, be summarized perfectly as what is one with or alienated from God’s love…forever.
What we should want, then, is for the Divine Wisdom to bring us to the knowledge and love of God forever. First, we need to discern or come to know God’s vision for all things or how He knows all things. What I mean is that we should discover the forms and natures of created substances. Next we must learn how to use them appropriately. Put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things which are profitable for our salvation. Providence, again, is the vision or knowledge by which God enlivens, orders, rules, governs, informs, and defines created beings. It is the Divine Wisdom which we must discover and perfect as knowledge becomes virtue in our everyday lives.
The author of this morning’s Old Testament lesson tells us that man best begins to open up to it through the fear of the Lord. All wisdom cometh from God and is with Him forever. (Ecclus. i. 1) We ought to fear God’s wisdom because it alone defines all things by way of the ends that they are created to realize. An acorn is made to grow into an oak tree. Fire is made to rise and to burn. Water is made to nourish and fertilize or to cleanse and to purge. Man is made to know the natures of all things and to return them to God through love. Love or the will are the means by which we translate what we know into how we live. The fear of the Lord is that healthy state that admonishes and cautions us before we make any rational decision. Whoso feareth the Lord, it shall go well with him at the last. (Ecclus. i. 14) The fear of the Lord is a salutary reminder that we ought to use the creation only in God’s service now so that it may go well with us in the end. It is a salubrious sense of God’s omnipresent vison and desire for us. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah lvii. 15) The fear of the Lord engenders humility of heart. Humility of heart sees the truth and intends to surrender to it by willing the good. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Prov. viii. 13)
God’s providence is His Divine Wisdom. St. Thomas, quoting Aristotle, says it belongs to the wise man to order… The name of the absolutely wise man, however, is reserved for him whose consideration is directed to the end of the universe, which is also the origin of the universe. That is why, according to the Philosopher, it belongs to the wise man to consider the highest causes.(SCG i. 1) The wise man rules his earthly life through the perfection of intellectual virtue. The wiser man knows the it belongs to the gift of wisdom to judge according to the Divine Truth. A man judges well what he knows. (Eth. i. 3, ST, ii, ii, xlv. 1) Divine Wisdom has become incarnate in the life of Jesus Christ. Christ the Word of God has borne the burden of human nature, carried it out of ignorance and into knowledge by Divine Wisdom, and lifted it out of sin and into righteousness by Divine Love. Wisdom made flesh now, as always, desires to rule and govern our lives. It teaches us that we should be debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Romans viii. 12). Rather, the Divine providence intends that we should be illuminated and liberated by Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24), remembering that if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. (Romans viii. 13) Mortifying the deeds of the body is the means to a higher end. In this morning’s Gospel the wise man is compared to a good tree that bringeth forth good fruit. (St. Matthew vii. 17) The good fruit are the virtues that grow up out of a body tamed by the soul that serves the spirit. Wisdom can be operative only when we intend to submit the body, soul, and spirit to the gift of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit might purge us of all things hurtful to us in the world, through the flesh, and by the influence of the devil.
In the face of Divine Wisdom, we must ask ourselves this morning these questions: Do I habitually study the never-failing providence that orders all things in heaven and earth? Do I thank God because I know that my creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life depend upon His providence? Do I desire that His Wisdom might enter my soul and crucify all things hurtful that distract and delay my adhesion to His will? Do I remember that I was born to be a child of God’s omnipotent Wisdom through the fear of the Lord, seeking, knocking, and asking? As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii 14) The Spirit of Wisdom crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city She uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (Proverbs i. 21-23)
Today’s lesson is not merely about vision or even willing a limited good. Today we are called to cultivate the virtue of an interior intention to please God in all of our lives. William Law tells us that it was this general intention, that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety, and made the goodly fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of martyrs and confessors. And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you, that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. What we intend is moved by what we love. Let us love God above all things so that in and through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit our intentions may be not only to see and know God but to participate in His desire by loving Him till the end of this life and beyond. Amen.