THE WILL IN RELIGION.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves.... For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." -- 2 Cor. 8:3, 12.
FENELON, in a book called "Spiritual Progress", gives us a deep insight into the place of the will in religion. He says, "True virtue and pure love reside in the will alone." And again, "The will to love God is the whole of religion." This, it seems to me, is the meaning of our foundation text, "If there be a willing mind" it is accepted of God.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering" (Exod. 25:1, 2).
In a religion that is to fit into every-day life there must be no dependence upon anything emotional or mysterious. A "state of mind" that will carry one safely through a Sunday service will be of no avail against the assaults of Monday's work. In common ordinary life everything depends on the will, which is, as we all know, the governing power in a man's nature. By the will, I do not mean the wish of the man, nor his feelings, nor his longings, but his choice, his deciding power, the king within him to which all the rest of his nature must yield obedience. I mean, in short, the man himself, the "Ego" -- that personality in the depths of his being which he feels to be his real self. A great deal of trouble arises from the fact that so few seem to understand this secret of the will. The common thought is that religion resides, not in the will, but in the emotions, and the emotions are looked upon as the governing power in our nature; and consequently all the attention of the soul is directed towards our "feelings;" and, as these are satisfactory or otherwise, the soul rests or is troubled. But the moment we discover the fact that true religion resides in the will alone, we are raised above the domination of our feelings, and realise that, so long as our will is steadfast toward God, the varying states of our emotions do not in the least affect the reality of the divine life in the soul. It is a great emancipation to make this discovery; and a little common-sense applied to religion would soon, I think, reveal it to us all. For we must all know that there is something within us, behind our feelings and behind our wishes, an independent self, that after all decides everything and controls everything. The Bible calls this central self the "heart," and declares that out of it are the "issues of life."
"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23).
"A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:35).
By whatever name philosophers may call this "heart" out of which are the "issues of life," common-sense would teach us that it means nothing more nor less than the will; for certainly to my consciousness the will is the governing force in my nature, and the spring of all my actions. It is out of the secret springs of our will that we bring forth the good or evil treasures of our lives. No one who will take a Concordance, and run their eyes down the long list of passages concerning the "heart," can fail to see that when God speaks of the "heart," He means something far other than that bundle of emotions which we of the present day call our hearts. And even we also often use the word heart in a far deeper sense. We speak, for instance, of getting "at the heart" of a matter, and we mean, not the feelings that accompany it, but the central idea that dominates it. And in the same way when God speaks of our "hearts," He means our true central self, that "Ego" within us which dominates our whole being. The word is used in the Bible over one thousand times, and it is made to express every form of thought or action that could be predicated of this central "Ego." The "heart" is said to understand and to be ignorant, to be wise and to be silly, to exercise good judgment or bad, to be stupefied, to wax gross, to grow fat, to resist the light, to be discouraged, to fluctuate in doubt, to be of the same mind with another, to seek knowledge, to work wickedness, to devise wicked imaginations, to be set to do evil, to be set to do good, to be astonished, to tremble, to be glad; it is said, in short, to do and to be exactly what the man himself is said to do and to be. In numberless instances where the word "heart" is used, it would not make sense to translate it by the affections or the emotions.
"And He hath filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And He hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work. Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise-hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded. And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise-hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it" (Exod. 35:31-35; 36:1, 2).
No one could for a moment suppose that to be "filled with wisdom of heart," or to be "wise-hearted," meant that only the feelings or the emotions were acted on by God. The man's true inner self must necessarily be meant here. Similarly is this the case in Solomon's prayer for wisdom. Solomon did not ask, and God did not grant, that merely his feelings should be made wise.
"In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.... Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee" (1 Kings 3:5-12).
An "understanding heart to discern judgment" involves something far deeper than our feelings or our emotions, let them be ever so lively. It involves the will. Paul thus describes it in Philippians --
"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12, 13).
The will is the stronghold of our being. If God is to get complete possession of us He must possess our will. When He says to us, "My son, give me thy heart," it is equivalent to saying, "Surrender thy will to my control, that I may work in it to will and to do of my good pleasure." It is not the feelings of a man that God wants, but his will. "Whose adorning," says the Apostle, "let it be the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet. 3:3, 4).
The "hidden man of the heart" is the Bible description of the will. It is the interior self, the controlling personality of our being. And the one vital question in our religious experience is, What is the attitude towards God of this "hidden man of the heart"? The very expression, "man of the heart," seems to me full of meaning. It is not the feelings of the heart, but the "man." Our feelings, in fact, do not belong to this "hidden man," but only to the outer or natural man, and are subject to all the varying changes that affect this "outer man." They are therefore of no importance whatever, except as they affect our personal comfort. They are no test of the real condition of the inner "man of the heart." If then our feelings should rebel or become contrary, let us not be perplexed nor discouraged. Our feelings are not ourselves. And what God desires is not fervent emotions, but a pure intention of the will. The whole of His scrutiny falls upon this "hidden man of the heart," and where He finds this honestly devoted to Himself, He disregards all the clamour of our feelings, and is satisfied.
"My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart" (Prov. 4:20, 21; 23:26).
To keep God's words in the "midst of our hearts" means a far more stable and real thing than merely to have our emotions stirred up about them.
It is very possible to pour out our emotions upon a matter without really giving our hearts at all. We sometimes see people who are very lavish of their feelings, but whose wills remain untouched. We call this sentimentality, and we mean that there is no reality in it. To get at reality, the heart, or in other words, the will, must be reached. What the will does is real, and nothing else is.
"Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy" (1 Chron. 29:9).
"Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).
"Of his own voluntary will," "according as he purposeth in his heart," these are interchangeable expressions, meant to teach the incontrovertible truth, that it is only things done by "our own voluntary will" that are done by our real selves at all. That which is done from any mere surface motive is simply an outward performance, that has no real meaning, and that cannot be acceptable to the God who looks only at the heart. The true Kingdom of God within us can only be set up in the region of our will. It is not a question of splendid talents, nor of great deeds, nor of fervent emotions, nor of wonderful illuminations; it is simply to will what God wills, always and in everything, and without reservation. We have nothing really under our own control but our wills. Our feelings are controlled by many other things, by the state of our health, or the state of the weather, or by the influence of other personalities upon us; but our will is our own. All that lies in our power is the direction of our will. The important question is not what we feel, nor what are our experiences, but whether we will whatever God wills. This was the crowning glory of Christ, that His will was set to do the will of His Father.
"Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire: mine ears hast thou opened: burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:6-8).
Fenelon says: "I do not ask from you a love that is tender and emotional, but only that your will should lean towards love. The purest of all loves is a will so filled with the will of God that there remains nothing else." We "delight" to do the will of God, not because our piety is so exalted, but because we have the sense to see that His will is the best; and therefore what He wants we want also. And this sort of delight, while it may not be as pleasing to ourselves, is far more satisfactory to Him than any amount of delight in joyous emotions or gratifying illuminations.
But some one will ask whether we are not told to give up our wills. To this I answer, Yes, but in giving up our wills we are not meant to become empty of will power, and to be left poor, flabby, nerveless creatures who have no will. We are simply meant to substitute for our own foolish misdirected wills of ignorance and immaturity, the perfect and beautiful and wise will of God. It is not will power in the abstract we are to give up, but our misguided use of that will power. The will we are to give up is our will as it is misdirected, and so parted off from God's will, not our will when it is one with God's will. For when our will is in harmony with His will, when it has the stamp of oneness with Him, it would be wrong for us to give it up.
The child is required to give up the misdirected will that belongs to it as an ignorant child, and we cannot let it say "I will" or "I will not;" but when its will is in harmony with ours we want it to say "I will," or "I will not," with all the force of which it is capable.
Our will is a piece of splendid machinery, a sort of "governor," such as they have in steam engines to regulate the working of the steam; and everything depends upon the intelligence that guides its action; whether it is guided by our ignorance or by God's wisdom. As long as our own ignorance is the guide, the whole machinery is sure to go wrong, and it is dangerous for us to say "I will" or "I will not." But when we have surrendered the working of our wills to God, and are letting Him "work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure," we are then called upon to "set our faces like a flint" to carry out His will, and must respond with an emphatic "I will" to every "Thou shalt" of His.
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:20, 21).
"I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1, 2; also Eph. 6:6).
"Doing the will of God from the heart," this is the only kind of doing His will that is of any value. The soul that has surrendered its central will to God, is the only soul that can do His will "from the heart." It is for this reason that we say that the essence of true virtue consists, not in the state of our emotions, nor in the greatness of our illuminations, nor in the multitude of our good works, but simply and only in the attitude of the will.
The practical bearing of all this upon our religious experience is of vital importance. We are so accustomed to consider the state of our emotions as being the deciding test of our religious life, that we very often neglect to notice the state of our will at all; and we thus leave this stronghold of our nature utterly unguarded, while we attend only to the unimportant outposts. The moment, however, that we recognise the fact that the will is king, our common-sense will teach us to disregard the clamour of our emotions, and to claim as real the decision of our will, however contrary it may be to the voice of our emotions.
I will take a familiar case as an illustration. A great trial falls upon a Christian. He knows he ought to say, "Thy will be done," in regard to it, and the purpose of his will is to say it; but his feelings are all in rebellion, and it seems to him, when he tries to say it, as if he were a hypocrite, and would be telling an untruth should he persist. Now the real fact is that all this rebellion, being only in the emotions, is not worth the slightest attention. If in his will the sufferer really chooses the will of God, then he himself really chooses it, and he is no hypocrite when he says, "Thy will be done." The real thing in your experience is not the verdict of your emotions, but the verdict of your will; and you are far more in danger of hypocrisy and untruth in yielding to the assertions of your feelings, than in holding fast to the decisions of your will. If your will then at bottom is on God's side, you are no hypocrite at this moment in claiming your position as belonging altogether to Him, and as being entirely submitted to His control, even though your feelings may all declare the contrary.
A Christian lady of my acquaintance was at one time in her life an apparently hopeless victim of doubts and fears. She knew she ought to trust the Lord, and longed to do it, but she seemed utterly unable. After a long period of suffering from this cause, she finally confided her difficulties to a friend, who, as it mercifully happened, understood this secret concerning the will, and who told her that if in her will she would decide to trust, and, putting all her will power into trusting, would utterly ignore her feelings, she would sooner or later get the victory over all her doubts. The poor doubter listened in silence for a few minutes, and then, drawing a long breath, said with emphasis, "Yes, I see it. If I choose in my will to trust, I really am trusting, even though all my feelings say the contrary. I do choose to trust now. I WILL trust; I will not be afraid again." As she came to this decision, and thus deliberately put her will on the side of God's will, all the darkness vanished, and her soul was brought out into the glorious light of the gospel; a light which was never dimmed again, until her eyes were opened in the presence of the King.
"And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).
"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her" (Ruth 1:16-18).
Again, I repeat, the whole question lies in the choice of our will. The thing we are to do is to "choose," without any regard to the state of our emotions, what attitude our will shall take towards God. We must recognise that our emotions are only the servants of our will (which is the real interior king in our being), and that it is the attitude, not of the servants, but of the master that is important. Is our choice deliberately made on God's side? Is our will given up to Him? Does our will decide to believe and obey Him? Are we "steadfastly minded" to serve Him and follow Him? If this is the case, then, no matter what our feelings may be, we ourselves are given up to Him, we ourselves decide to believe, we ourselves decide to obey. For my will is myself, and what my will chooses, I choose.
Your attitude towards God is as real where only the will acts, as when every emotion coincides. It does not seem as real to us, but in God's sight it is as real, and often I think all the more real, because it is unencumbered with a lot of unmanageable feelings. When, therefore, this wretched feeling of unreality or hypocrisy comes, do not be troubled by it. It is only in the region of your emotions, and means nothing, except perhaps that your digestion is out of order, or that there is an east wind blowing. Simply see to it that your will is in God's hands; that your true inward personality or "Ego" is abandoned to His working; that your choice, your decision, is on His side; and there leave it. Your surging emotions, like a tossing vessel, which by degrees yields to the steady pull of the anchor, finding themselves attached to the mighty power of God by the choice of your will, must inevitably sooner or later come into captivity, and give in their allegiance to him. It is a psychological fact, not generally known, that our will can control our feelings, if only we are "steadfastly minded" so to do. Have you ever tried it in a case where you have got "turned around," as we call it, in regard to the direction in which you were going? Many times, when my feelings have declared unmistakably that I was going in a direction contrary to the facts, I have changed those feelings entirely by a steadfast assertion of their opposite. And similarly I have been able many times to control my rebellious feelings against the will of God by a steadfast assertion of my choice to accept and submit to His will. Sometimes it has seemed to drain to my lips all the will power I possessed, to say, "Thy will be done," so contrary has it been to the evidence of my senses or of my emotions. But invariably sooner or later the victory has come. God has taken possession of the will thus surrendered to Him, and has worked in me to will and to do of His good pleasure.
May all my readers speedily learn this practical secret concerning the will!
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