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Salvian, On the Government of God (1930) pp.66-76.  Book 2

Book II. : The immediate judgment of God as seen in the history of King David

[Translated by Eva M. Sanford]


1. The examples given above are sufficient proof, therefore, that our God acts constantly as a most anxious watcher, a most tender ruler, and a most just judge. But perhaps one of my less enlightened readers is thinking: "If all things are now conducted by God as they were in those days, why is it that the evil prevail while the good are afflicted; and whereas in the past the evil felt God's wrath, and the good his mercy, now by some strange reversal the good appear to experience his wrath and the evil his favor?" These questions I shall answer presently, but now since I have promised to prove three points, namely, God's presence, his government and his judgment, by three methods, that is, by reason, by examples and by authority and since I have already given sufficient proof of them by reason and examples, it remains for me to verify them by authority. Yet the examples I have given should rank as authority, since that term is rightly applied to the means by which the truth of matters under discussion is established.

Which then of the above-mentioned points should first be proved by sacred authority ---- his presence, his government, or his judgment? His presence, I think, because he who is to rule or judge must surely be present, in order to be able to rule or judge anything whatever.

Speaking through the Sacred Books, the Divine Word says.: "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." 1 Here you find God present, looking upon us, his eyes watching us wherever we may be. If the Divine Word assures us that God observes the good and the wicked, it is expressly to prove that nothing escapes his watchful scrutiny. For your fuller comprehension, hear the testimony of the Holy Spirit in another part |67 of the Scriptures, when it says: "Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine." 2 This is why God is said to watch over the just, that he may preserve and protect them. For the propitious oversight of his divinity is the safeguard, of our mortal life. 3 Elsewhere the Holy Spirit speaks in the same fashion: "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears, are open unto their cry." 4

See with what gentle kindness the Scripture says the Lord treats his people. For when it says the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, his watchful love is shown; when it says that his ears are always open to their prayers, his readiness to hear is indicated. That his ears are always open to the prayers of the righteous proves not merely God's attention, but one might almost say his obedience. For how are the ears of the Lord open to the prayers of the righteous? How, save that he always hears, always hears clearly, always grants readily the pleas he has heard, bestows on men at once what he has clearly heard them ask? So the ears of our Lord are always ready to listen to the prayers of his saints, always attentive. How happy should we all be if we ourselves were as ready to hearken to God as he is to hear us!

But perhaps you say that the proof of God's guardianship of the just is useless to our argument, since this is not a general watchfulness of the divine power but merely a special favor granted to the righteous. Note, however, that the Sacred Word testified above that the eyes of the Lord watch over both good and evil. If you still wish to argue the point, consider this, for it follows in the text: "Moreover the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." 5 |68 

You see that you have no ground for complaint that God does not look upon the unjust also, since you know that he watches all men, but with different effect because of the inequality of their merits. The good indeed are watched by him that they may be preserved, the evil that they may be destroyed. You yourself, who deny that God watches men, have your place with these last; know then that you are not only clearly seen by God, but are without doubt in imminent peril. For since the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil, to cut off remembrance of them from the earth, you, who wickedly say that the eyes of the Lord do not see you, must learn by your destruction the wrath of an all-seeing God. These arguments, then, are sufficient to prove the presence and watchfulness of God.

2. Let us now see whether he who watches us also rules us, although, forsooth, his watchfulness in itself implies governance as its motive, unless he looks upon us in order to neglect us thereafter. Surely the fact that he deigns to look upon us is itself an indication of his care for us, especially since the Sacred Word has borne witness, as I have shown above, that the wicked are observed by God to their destruction, the good to their salvation. Certainly this very fact shows the divine guidance, for this is actually ruling by just government and dealing with men individually according to their several merits.

Listen, however, to fuller testimony on this point. The Holy Spirit spoke thus to God the Father in a psalm: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel." 6 Israel means "Seeing God," since indeed Christians who believe faithfully see him with faith in their hearts:. Though God is the governor of all things, still his governance is spoken of as being chiefly assigned to those who especially deserve divine guidance. Therefore you also, whoever you are, if you are a Christian, must of necessity believe in God's government. If, however, you refuse utterly to believe that you, together with other |69 Christians, are ruled by God, you must recognize that you belong outside the whole body of Christians.

But if, as we suggested earlier, you are more interested in the case of men in general, than of Christians alone, see how clearly the Holy Book says that all things are daily ruled by the divine will and the whole world incessantly guided by God, for it says: "He himself loves counsel and discipline." 7 "For neither is there any other God beside thee that careth for all, bat being righteous thou rulest all things righteously and with great reverence dost dispose us." 8

Here you have God constantly arranging, constantly governing; yet in the passage cited not only his divine governance but also the high honor of man is declared. For the words, "thou dost dispose us," show the power of his divine government, but the words, "with great reverence," show the culmination of human honor. Elsewhere also we read in the words of the prophet: "Do I not fill heaven and earth!" 9 And he himself tells us why he fills all things: "Because I am with you to save you." 10 Obviously then God shows us not merely his rule and the fulness of his power but also the might and benefits that result from its plenitude. For the fulness of divinity bears within it this fruit, that it saves all things that it fills. Thus in the Acts of the Apostles the most blessed Paul said: "In him we live and move and have our being." 11 Doubtless he is more than the controller of our lives, in whom is the very source of life. For Paul did not say that we are moved by God but in him, teaching us, to be sure, that our real substance is rooted within his sacred attributes, since we truly live in him from whom we receive our being. |70 

The Savior himself said also in the Gospel: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." 12 He not only said that he is with us, but that he is with us all our days. Do you then, most thankless of men, say that he who is constantly with us has no care or thought for us? What then does he do in our company? Can you possibly think that he is with us in order to neglect and overlook us? And how can he consistently grant his presence to our virtue and neglect our vice? "For lo," he says, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Truly we have a marvelous comprehension of God's love if we say falsely that he is constantly neglectful of us while he says that he is constantly with us. Through this he wishes to show that his love and protection are constantly with us, since his very presence does not leave us. But we turn the divine charity into contempt; we change the indications of his love into proofs of hatred. For we try to see evidence of hatred rather than of love in his saying that he is with us. If the Lord had said that he would remain apart from us, we might perhaps have less occasion to gossip about his lack of care, in his absence. Constant neglect is a proof of greater contempt and scorn from one who never leaves us. There is the more odium in staying with us always if, while never depriving us of his presence, he continually shuts us out from his loving care.

But far be it from us to believe that our most loving and merciful God would have wished to be always near us for the sake of increasing by his presence the apparent contempt of his neglect: far be it from us even to say such a, wicked thing. For I think there is no one in the whole human race who is so evil that he wishes to be with any man on account of his dislike of him, or wishes to employ his presence solely to achieve greater satisfaction of his hatred by scorning him face to face. Let human nature itself teach and convince us that we wish to be with one man or another because we love the one whose company we desire. And just because we |71 love a man, we wish our presence to be of benefit to him whom we love. So what we cannot deny even to a criminal, we deny to God, and make him seem worse than the worst of men, if we think that he promised to be with us in order to show greater contempt for us by his subsequent neglect. But enough of this.

3. We have already proved by sacred testimony that all things are both watched and ruled by God; it remains now to show that the greater part are also judged by his divine power in this world.

When the blessed David had suffered the insulting scorn of Nabal the Carmelite, since he himself postponed vengeance, he received his revenge at once at the hand of God. So when, shortly after, his enemy had been overwhelmed and killed by the hand of the Lord, he spoke thus: "Blessed be the Lord, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal." 13 Likewise when his rebellious son had driven him from his kingdom the Lord as his judge in a brief space requited him, and more abundantly than he himself desired.

God wished to show that the affliction of those who suffered injustice was greater in his eyes than in their own. For when a man takes vengeance beyond the wish of the injured person, what else can he mean than that he is acting on his own behalf also? So when, for his attempted parricide, David's son was being hung on a cross not made with hands, the Divine Word tells us that the punishment divinely brought upon him was thus reported: "I bring thee good tidings, my lord king; for the Lord hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee." 14

4. You see how the sacred books prove through divine witnesses that God judges not only by deeds, as we said above, and by examples, but by the very name and terms of judgment, even in our present age. Perhaps you think that it was as a special favor granted by God to a holy man, that he wrought judgment forthwith on David's enemies. The day will not suffice if I would tell of |72 his immediate sentences and judgments in this world. Yet, that you may clearly understand that it is not so much in consideration of the persons concerned as of their actions that he exercises his sacred censure, hear how God our judge, who constantly gave his unmistakable verdict on behalf of his servant David, many times passed judgment on David himself. And indeed this occurred not in a matter affecting many men, nor ---- which would perhaps naturally have aroused God the more ---- affecting holy men, but in the case of a single individual, a barbarian,15 a case in which it was not the person concerned that demanded vengeance, but the action. For when David had killed Uriah the Hittite, a man belonging to an impious people and a hostile nation, he was at once charged thus by the divine voice: "Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house. Therefore thus saith the Lord, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes and give them unto thy neighbor. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.' " 16

What answer have you to this, you who believe that God not only fails to judge our every action but does not regard us at all? Do you see that the eyes of the Lord were in no wise withdrawn from the single secret sin which David once committed? Wherefore do you also, who ---- as a consolation I suppose for your sins ---- think that our acts are not observed by God, learn from this same instance that you are always seen by Christ, and know that you must receive punishment, perhaps very shortly. For you see that even the blessed David was unable to hide his own misdeed in the secret places of his innermost chambers, and to claim exemption from instant punishment by the undoubted merit of his great deeds. For what did the Lord say to him? "I will take thy wives before |73 thine eyes, and the sword shall never depart from thine house." You see what immediate judgment so great a man suffered at once for one sin. Condemnation followed close on the heels of the fault, a condemnation punishing immediately without reservations and arresting the wrongdoer on the spot, not putting off the charge to a later time.

Therefore he did not say: "Because you have done this, know that the judgment of the Lord shall come and you shall be tortured hereafter by the flames of Gehenna." No; he said: "You shall suffer torture at once, and shall feel the sword of divine justice already at your throat."

And what followed? The guilty man acknowledged his fault, was humbled, stung by remorse, confessed and mourned his sin. He repented and implored pardon, gave up his royal jewels, laid aside his gold-wrought robes, put off the purple, resigned the glory of his crown, changed his whole bodily habit, cast off every aspect of kingship with its trappings, and put on the guise of a penitent fugitive, eagerly assuming a squalor that should plead in his defence; he was wasted by fasting, withered by thirst, exhausted by weeping, self-imprisoned in loneliness. And yet this king of so great repute, greater in holiness than in mere temporal power, surpassing all men in the favors earned by his former merits, although he sought pardon so earnestly, did not escape punishment. The fruit of such great penitence was indeed sufficient to win remission from eternal expiation, but not to earn pardon at the moment. Finally, what did the prophet say to the penitent? "Because thou hast made the enemies of the Lord blaspheme, the son that is born to thee shall die." 17 In addition to the bitter loss of his son, God wished the loving father to suffer also the knowledge of the full extent of his punishment, that he himself had caused the death of the clearly loved son for whom he mourned, when the boy born of his father's crime was slain for the very crime that had begotten him. |74 

5. This is the first instance of the divine punishment; the first, to be sure, but not the only one, for a long series of great griefs followed and an almost unending succession of misfortunes haunted his household. Thamar was seduced by the mad act of Amnon, and Amnon slain by Absalom. A great crime indeed was committed by the first brother, but its retribution by the other was worse. In these actions David the father was punished alike by both sons' crimes. Two children sinned, but three were ruined by the sin of two; for Thamar suffered the loss of her virginity, while in Amnon also the destruction of Absalom was mourned. And verily you cannot tell for which of the two sons so loving a father mourned the more grievously, the one slain in this world by his brother's hand, or the other who by his own hand was doomed forever.18 From this time indeed ills were piled up beyond reckoning, according to the word of God. The father long endured the treachery of his son, was driven from his kingdom, and sought in exile an escape from murder. Which was worse, the vice or the bloodthirstiness of his son? By incest he disgraced his father when his attempted parricide failed, and by his diligent heaping up of crime achieved an incest passing the bounds of incest, committing in public, to his father's greater shame, a crime abominable even in secret. It was a mortal sin that he performed against his exiled father, but worse still was the injury wrought by his public incest before the eyes of the whole world.

Must we add to this the spectacle of David's actual flight? Picture this mighty king, so greatly renowned, higher in honor than all others, greater than the world itself, fleeing his whole people with a tiny band of slaves. In comparison with his former state he was needy indeed; in comparison with his wonted train 19 he went |75 alone. He fled in fear, disgrace and sorrow ---- "walking," the Scripture says, "with covered head, and barefoot." 20 He had outlived his former state, exiled from himself, almost, one might say, surviving his own death. He sank so low as to merit the scorn of his own servants, or ---- which is harder yet to bear ---- their pity. So Ziba was fain to feed him, and Shimei did not fear to curse him publicly. God's judgment so changed him from his former self that he endured the open insults of a single enemy ---- he who had made the world to tremble!

6. Who now denies that God watches over human actions? Behold how often the Scriptures have shown in the case of one man that God not only observed, but also judged his acts! And why? Why indeed, except that we should understand that the Lord's verdict and coercion are always to be exercised in this world as they were then? So we read that even holy men were punished aforetime by God's judgment, to teach us that we too must always be judged in our present life by God. For as God always is, so is his justice eternal. As God's omnipotence is never-failing, so is his verdict unchangeable. As long as his law endures, so long also shall his justice remain. Therefore all his saints in their sacred books, amid the imminent fear of martyrdom and the swords of the persecutors, demand that the immediate judgment of God be established. For thus said the just man in a psalm: "Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation." And that this might not be construed as a reference to some future judgment of God, he added at once: "Deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man." 21 Certainly it is the immediate judgment of God that he demands who begs to be freed from the hands of the persecutor. In his consciousness of a just cause the psalmist did well to pray for God's justice rather than for his favor, for the best verdict is always given to the righteous cause if the case is conducted with justice. |76 

Elsewhere also the psalmist spoke most clearly, saying: "Judge, O Lord, them that injure me; fight against them that fight against me; seize arms and shield and stand up for mine help." 22 You see in this case that he does not demand the severity of a future trial, but the verdict of immediate justice.

For what are his words? "Take up the shield and seize the sword" ---- the shield, of course, for protection and the sword for vengeance ---- not that God's judgment needs such weapons, but because in this world the names of dreaded arms are the instruments of dread judgments. Speaking to human intelligence in figures drawn from human life, since he was praying for judgment and for vengeance on his adversaries, he expressed the power of God's punishment in terms of the instruments of earthly vengeance.

Lastly, the same prophet showed elsewhere the great difference between the present and the future judgments of God. For what did he say to the Lord about his verdict in the present trial? "Thou sittest on the throne and judgest." And what about the future and everlasting judgment of God? "He shall judge the world in righteousness;" and again: "He shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness." 23 By these words surely he made a clear distinction in time between the present and the future judgments of God. For to indicate the present he wrote, "thou judgest," and to distinguish the future from the present he added, "he shall judge."

Sufficient proof of God's care for us and of his government and judgment has now been given by reason, by examples and by authority,24 especially since the books to follow are all to be concerned with the same proof. Now if we receive from God, whose work we are performing, strength to complete our task, we shall attempt to bring to light and to refute the customary arguments opposed by our adversaries to these essential doctrines.

[Footnotes moved to the end]

1. 1 Proverbs 15. 3.

2. 2 Psalms 33. 18-19.

3. 3 Note the converse of this statement already given in 1.7 supra: "The divine wrath is the punishment of the sinner."

4. 4 Ibid. 34. 15. 

5. 5 Ibid. 34. 16.

6. 6 Ibid. 80. 1.

7. 7 Ecclesiasticus 39.10; Salvian has diligit for the diriget of the Vulgate, though the latter reading would express his idea better than the verb he uses.

8. 8 Wisdom 12. 13, 15, 18. 

9. 9 Jeremiah 23. 24.

10. 10 Ibid. 42. 11.

11. 11 Acts 17. 28.

12. 12 Matthew 28. 20.

13. 13 I  Samuel 25. 39.

14. 14 II Samuel 18.31.

15. 15 That is, not a Hebrew. 

16. 16 II Samuel 12. 9-12.

17. 17 Ibid. 12. 14.

18. 18 Here Salvian seems to overlook II Samuel 13.39: "And the soul of King David longed to go forth unto Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead."

19. 19 I have followed here Pauly's conjecture: in comparatione comitatus sui soliti solus.

20. 20  II Samuel 15. 30.

21. 21 Psalms 43.1.

22. 22 Ibid. 35.1-2.

23. 23 Ibid. 9. 4, 8.

24. 24 See II. 1 supra.

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