Paphnutius: This would fairly influence us, if in every work and practice, the beginning and the end were everything, and there were no middle in between. And so as we know that God creates opportunities of salvation in various ways, it is in our power to make use of the opportunities granted to us by heaven more or less earnestly. For just as the offer came from God Who called him “get thee out of thy country,” so the obedience was on the part of Abraham who went forth; and as the fact that the saying “Come into the land” was carried into action, was the work of him who obeyed, so the addition of the p. 326 words “which I will show thee” came from the grace of God Who commanded or promised it. But it is well for us to be sure that although we practise every virtue with unceasing efforts, yet with all our exertions and zeal we can never arrive at perfection, nor is mere human diligence and toil of itself sufficient to deserve to reach the splendid reward of bliss, unless we have secured it by means of the co-operation of the Lord, and His directing our heart to what is right. And so we ought every moment to pray and say with David “Order my steps in thy paths that my footsteps slip not:” 1246 and “He hath set my feet upon a rock and ordered my goings:” 1247 that He Who is the unseen ruler of the human heart may vouchsafe to turn to the desire of virtue that will of ours, which is more readily inclined to vice either through want of knowledge of what is good, or through the delights of passion. And we read this in a verse in which the prophet sings very plainly: “Being pushed I was overturned that I might fall,” where the weakness of our free will is shown. And “the Lord sustained me:” 1248 again this shows that the Lords help is always joined to it, and by this, that we may not be altogether destroyed by our free will, when He sees that we have stumbled, He sustains and supports us, as it were by stretching out His hand. And again: “If I said my foot was moved;” viz., from the slippery character of the will, “Thy mercy, O Lord, helped me.” 1249 Once more he joins on the help of God to his own weakness, as he confesses that it was not owing to his own efforts but to the mercy of God, that the foot of his faith was not moved. And again: “According to the multitude of the sorrows which I had in my heart,” which sprang most certainly from my free will, “Thy comforts have refreshed my soul,” 1250 i.e., by coming through Thy inspiration into my heart, and laying open the view of future blessings which Thou hast prepared for them who labour in Thy name, they not only removed all anxiety from my heart, but actually conferred upon it the greatest delight. And again: “Had it not been that the Lord helped me, my soul had almost dwelt in hell.” 1251 He certainly shows that through the depravity of this free will he would have dwelt in hell, had he not been saved by the assistance and protection of the Lord. For “By the Lord,” and not by free-will, “are a mans steps directed,” and “although the righteous fall” at least by free will, “he shall not be cast away.” And why? because “the Lord upholdeth him with His hand:” 1252 and this is to say with the utmost clearness: None of the righteous are sufficient of themselves to acquire righteousness, unless every moment when they stumble and fall the Divine mercy supports them with His hands, that they may not utterly collapse and perish, when they have been cast down through the weakness of free will.
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