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Chapter III.

The answer that without God’s help not only perfect chastity but all good of every kind cannot be performed.

Chæremon: By this very instance which you bring forward we can still more clearly prove that the exertions of the worker can do nothing without God’s aid. For neither can the husbandman, when he has spent the utmost pains in cultivating the ground, forthwith ascribe the produce of the crops and the rich fruits to his own exertions, as he finds that these are often in vain unless opportune rains and a quiet and calm winter aids them, so that we have often seen fruits already ripe and set and thoroughly matured snatched as it were from the hands of those who were grasping them; and their continuous and earnest efforts were of no use to the workers because they were not under the guidance of the Lord’s assistance. As then the Divine goodness does not grant these rich crops to idle husbandmen who do not till their fields by frequent ploughing, so also toil all night long is of no use to the workers unless the mercy of the Lord prospers it. But herein human pride should never try to put itself on a level with the grace of God or to intermingle itself with it, so as to fancy that its own efforts were the cause of Divine bounty, or to boast that a very plentiful crop of fruits was an answer to the merits of its own exertions. For a man should consider and with a most careful scrutiny weigh the fact that he could not by his own strength apply those very efforts which he has earnestly used in his desire for wealth, unless the Lord’s protection and pity had given him strength for the performance of all agricultural labours; and that his own will and strength would have been powerless unless Divine compassion had supplied the means for the completion of them, as they sometimes fail either from too much or from too little rain. For when vigour has been granted by the Lord to the oxen, and bodily health and the power to do all the work, and prosperity in undertakings, still a man must pray lest there come to him, as Scripture says, “a heaven of brass and an earth of iron,” and “the cankerworm eat what the locust hath left, and the palmerworm eat what the cankerworm hath left, and the mildew destroys what the palmerworm hath left.”17471747    Deut. xxviii. 23; Joel i. 4. Nor is it only in this that the efforts of the husbandman in his work need God’s help, unless it also averts unlooked for accidents by which, even when the field is rich with the expected fruitful crops, not only is the man deprived of what he has vainly hoped and looked for, but actually loses the abundant fruits which he has already gathered and stored up in the threshing floor or in the barn. From which we clearly infer that the initiative not only of our actions but also of good thoughts comes from God, who inspires us with a good will to begin with, and supplies us with the opportunity of carrying out what we rightly desire: for “every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from above, from the Father of lights,”17481748    S. James i. 17. who both begins what is good, and continues it and completes it in us, as the Apostle says: “But He who giveth seed to the sower will both provide bread to eat and will multiply your seed and make the fruits of your righteousness to increase.”17491749    2 Cor. ix. 10. But it is for us, humbly to follow day by day the grace of God which is drawing us, or else if we resist with “a stiff neck,” and (to use the words of Scripture) “uncircumcised ears,”17501750    Acts vii. 51. we shall deserve to hear the words of Jeremiah: “Shall he that falleth, not rise again? and he that is turned away, shall he not turn again? Why then is this people in Jerusalem turned away with a stubborn revolting? They have stiffened their necks and refused to return.”17511751    Jer. viii. 4, 5.

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