A WAY OF THE WILL
The Way of the Will a Slow Way.—We have already seen something of the ‘way of the Will.’ We know that the Will acts upon ideas; that ideas are presented to the mind in many ways—by books, talk, spiritual influences; that, to let ourselves be moved by a mere suggestion is an act of allowance and not of will; that an act of will is not the act of a single power of Mansoul, but an impulse that gathers force from Reason, Conscience, Affection; that, having come to a head by degrees, its operations also are regular and successive, going through the stages of intention, purpose, resolution; and that, when we are called upon for acts of will about small matters, such as going here or there, buying this or that, we simply fall back upon the principles or the opinions which Will has slowly accumulated for our guidance.
We know that what we do or say matters less than what we will; for the Will is the man, and it is out of many acts of willing that our character, our personality, comes forth.
The Will is Opposed.—You will say, “This is all very well, and I should gladly choose to be
among the men of good-will; but I know that sudden emergencies will overtake me, as they have always done before. Anger, greed, mean thoughts, the strong desire of favour here or friendship there, perplexity or fear, will come upon me with such force that I shall not be able to will or to do, but only to drift.”
These sudden floods of the spirit—or the slow aggressions of outside influence—we are all sadly familiar with, and call them temptations; and we pray that we may not enter into temptation. But we forget that the mandate runs, ‘Watch and pray’; and, perhaps, three-fourths of the falls of good men and women arise from the fact that they do not know or consider at what postern they must keep ward. They strive against what they call their besetting sin, occupying their minds about that sin, in order that they may strive against it; and they so surely prepare themselves for a fall by this very preoccupation, that their story has passed into a proverb,—‘Hell is paved with good intentions.’
The Postern to be Guarded.—The place to keep watch at, is, not the way of our particular sin, but that very narrow way, that little portal, where ideas present themselves for examination. Our falls are invariably due to the sudden presentation of ideas opposed to those which judgment and conscience, the porters at the gate, have already accepted.
These foreign ideas get in with a rush. We know how that just man, Othello, was instantly submerged by the idea of jealousy which Iago cunningly presented. We know of a thousand times in our own lives when some lawless idea has forced an entrance, secured Reason as its advocate, thrown a sop to
Conscience, and carried us headlong into some vain or violent course.
Seeing that neither Reason nor Conscience can be depended upon, once an idea has been admitted,—though they offer infallible tests at the gateway,—what we want to know is, how we are to treat insurgent ideas that press for an entrance. Fight them, say most Christian teachers; and the story of the mediæval Church is a history of fights with thongs and lashes, hair shirts, fastings, and sore self-denials, shutting out all the sweetness of life. These terrific conflicts with evil, Martin Luther’s inkpot, and the like, cannot, perhaps, be escaped when certain turbulent ideas have got in; but our Lord’s merciful counsel of ‘Watch and pray’ saves us. Given, the good Will, there is a means at hand, simple and unpromising against our giant, as was David’s sling and stone, and just as effectual. In the spiritual as well as in the natural world, great means are always simple.
When the new idea presents itself in a newspaper article in in the talk of our friends—or rises suddenly in our own hearts—by a rapid act of the trained Reason and instructed Conscience, we examine the newcomer. We do this unconsciously; it has become the habit of the trained will (and the way to train the will is to exercise it) to submit the chance ideas that come our way to this manner of inspection before we appropriate them—let them in, that is, and make them our own.
Supposing they fail to satisfy the two janitors which coalesce to form our judgment, what then? Here comes in the beautiful simplicity with which the will works.
We do not struggle against, or argue down, or say bad things against the trespasser. By a conscious act of will, we simply and instantly think of something else—not something good and lofty, but something interesting, even something diverting;—what we shall do on our next holiday, a story we are reading, a friend we mean to see, even a fly walking across the ceiling, is enough to think about; because any other occupation of the mind keeps out the insidious idea we would repel, and it has no power over us until it has been willingly admitted.
Whenever life becomes so strenuous that we are off guard, then is our hour of danger. Ideas that make for vanity, petulance, or what not, assault us, and our safety lies in an ejaculation of prayer,—‘O God, make speed to save us! O Lord, make haste to help us!’ and then, quick as thought, we must turn our eyes away from the aggravating circumstance and think of something diverting or interesting: the weather, and the fitting garments for it, are always at hand!
We are all aware, more or less, that our moral Armageddon is to be fought against an army of insurgent ideas; but, perhaps, we are not all aware of the simple and effectual weapon put into our hands. Another thing that we are not all aware of is, that insurgent intellectual ideas have to be dealt with in precisely the same way as the moral insurgents within us. We are not free to think what we like, any more than to do what we like; indeed, the real act is the thought. Our opinions about God and man, Church and State, books and events, are as much the result of the operations of Will as are our moral judgments. They must be no more lightly entertained. Here is the need to watch and pray against the irresponsible
flight of opinions for ever on the wing. Every such opinion must be examined at the postern, and, however attractive, if it fail to satisfy due tests, it must be pushed out of the way, diverted by some friendly and familiar thought waiting to occupy the mind. It is not that we must make up our minds beforehand to reject any class of intellectual ideas; but that it is our bounden duty to examine each as it presents itself, to submit it to the tests of Reason and Conscience; and, if it do not satisfy these, why—just to think of something else, really interesting and diverting!
An idea once admitted, is our master and not our servant. There are ideas, both evil and good, both moral and intellectual, which strike us, possess us, carry us away, absorb all our powers of body and mind, so that we may come to live, for better for worse, as the instrument of a single idea. How necessary, then, that we should keep watch at the door of ideas, and that we should become adepts in the use of the simple means of repelling ideas we would not willingly entertain!
A careful study of the Gospels will show the vital importance of the ideas of the Intellect which we are apt to call merely a person’s opinions—the opinions that ‘every person has a right to form for himself.’ Undoubtedly he has, both a right and a duty, but he should face his risks.
The Gospels are largely filled with the story of our Lord’s controversies against fallacies,—that is, specious opinions proved by the Reason, and allowed to pass by the Conscience, because the Will permitted them unquestioned entrance. It is a perilous fact that Conscience and Reason themselves are at the mercy of an idea which they have not been summoned to examine before its admission.