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. Its actualization, we learned, would depend upon our willful desire and longing for its effectual operation.
But what is this never-failing providence that our Collect for today recites? 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 life and every facet of its being 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 of earthly peace. They gather and fancy presumptuously that God’s chief role and function in the universe is to overcome and overturn any physical or material impediment to human happiness. Of course, what they have forgotten is that familiarity breeds contempt. And spiritual overfamiliarity 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 controls any spiritual conversation or dialogue with God is in serious danger.
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 Being. 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 choose or will to think, say, and do will, in the end, be summarized perfectly as what is one with or alienated from God…forever.
What we should want, then, is for the Divine Wisdom to bring us to the knowledge and love of God forever. To obtain that, we need to submit to the never-failing providence that ordereth all things both in heaven and earth. (Collect) So we pray that God will 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 orders, rules, governs, informs, defines, enlivens, conserves, changes, betters, and perfects all things. It is the Divine Wisdom which, while ruling all things in general, must govern our hearts in particular if we would be saved. Jesus ben Sirach, the author of this morning’s Old Testament lesson, tells us that man acquires it through the fear of the Lord. All wisdom cometh from God and is with him forever. (Ecclus. i. 1) It stands above all things as what alone illuminates and enlightens us to our sin, reminds us of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, and shows us the way onto the path of sanctification through the Holy Spirit. Man can have it only through fear. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…whoso feareth the Lord, it shall go well with him at the last. (Ecclus. i. 13, 14) The fear of the Lord is a healthy and mature awe or wonder at God’s power, wisdom, and love. It is not abject terror or horrified dread of a God who has predestined us to an inescapable fate. Rather it is that searing and startling apprehension and consciousness of God’s presence that elicits dutiful respect and profound humility from fallen man in the presence of an all-merciful God. Let all the earth fear the Lord: stand in awe of him all ye that dwell in the word. (Psalm xxxiii. 8) the psalmist sings. 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) With the fear of the Lord comes humility; humility leads to penitence, and penitence to a contrition that desires the order and rule of God’s Widsom in human life. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. Pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the forward mouth do I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom, (Proverbs viii. 13, 14) says the Lord.
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 life with reason; the wiser man seeks God and discovers that the cause of his perfection is found in the order and governance of Divine Wisdom. Divine Wisdom has, of course, offered itself to the hearts and minds of men through the life of Jesus Christ. Wisdom has been made flesh and thus has borne the burden of human nature, scattered its darkness and ignorance, silenced its foolishness, and humbled its heart. Wisdom made flesh now, as always, desires to become operative in the lives of those who choose Him. 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 means that we must allow God’s wisdom to rule and govern our earthly lives. Man is made for goodness- to discover, see, know, and embrace it. 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 in the human soul that subjects himself to God’s Wisdom. Wisdom cannot be present and effective unless and until a man has stopped living to himself, the flesh, the world, and the devil. The good fruit of Wisdom is the increase, yield, and harvest that Divine Providence intends for all human beings.
In the face of Divine Wisdom, we must ask ourselves this morning these questions: Do I habitually recognize the never-failing providence that orders all things in heaven and earth? Do I thank God for my creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life? Do I desire that His Wisdom might enter my soul and crucify all things that frustrate and threaten my adhesion to God’s 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) Do I remember with William Law that, Resignation to the divine will signifies a cheerful approbation and thankful acceptance of everything that comes from God. It is not enough patiently to submit, but we must thankfully receive and fully approve of everything that by the order of God's providence happens to us. Do I remember that the Spirit of Wisdom, the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Romans viii. 15), calls us away from false prophets, who bring forth only evil fruit? (St. Matt. vii. 17) She 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) God has an eternal vision of who and where we should be forever.
My friends, today let us remember, with Romano Guardini, that there is at work in world history an intention, a heart, a concern, and a power that is stronger than all worldly powers. This power brings about what the Divine heart intends and what the Divine intention wills. (VLG. ii) If we embrace the Wisdom of God in our flesh, the light of the Divine Providence shall guide us into salvation. Then the same light will shine out of us and into the hearts of others, that they too might hope be sanctified and saved by God’s everlasting vision for them. Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons