THE WILL.—THE CONSCIENCE—THE DIVINE LIFE IN THE CHILD
Government of Mansoul.—We have now to consider a subject of unspeakable importance to every being called upon to sustain a reasonable life here, with the hope of the fuller life hereafter; I mean, the government of the kingdom of Mansoul. Every child who lives long enough in the world is invested, by degrees, with this high function, and it is the part of his parents to instruct him in his duties, and to practice him in his tasks. Now, the government of this kingdom of Mansoul is, like that of some well-ordered states, carried on in three chambers, each chamber with its own functions, exercised, not by a multitude of counselors, but by a single minister.
Executive Power vested in the Will.—In the outer of the three chambers sits the Will. Like that Roman centurion, he has soldiers under him: he says to this man, Go, and he goeth; to another, Come, and he cometh; to a third, Do this, and he doeth it. In other words, the executive power is vested in the will. If the will have the habit of
authority, if it deliver its mandates in the tone that constrains obedience, the kingdom is, at any rate, at unity with itself. If the will be feeble, of uncertain counsels, poor Mansoul is torn with disorder and rebellion.
What is the Will?—I do not know what the will is; it would appear to be an ultimate fact, not admitting of definition: but there are few subjects on which those who have the education of children in their hands make more injurious mistakes; and therefore it is worth while to consider, as we may, what are the functions of the will, and what are its limitations.
Persons may go through life without deliberate act of Will.—In the first place, the will does not necessarily come into play in any of the aspects in which we have hitherto considered the child. He may reflect and imagine; be stirred by the desire of knowledge, of power, of distinction; may love and esteem; may form habits of attention, obedience, diligence, sloth, involuntarily—that is, without ever intending, purposing, willing these things for himself. So far is this true, that there are people who live through their lives without an act of deliberate will: amiable, easy-going people, on the one hand, hedged in by favouring circumstances; and poor souls, on the other, whom circumstances had not saved, who have drifted from their moorings, and are hardly to be named by those to whom they belong. Great intellectual powers by no means imply a controlling will. We read how Coleridge had to be taken care of, because he had so little power of willing. His thoughts were as little under his own volition as his actions, and the fine talk people went to hear was no
more than an endless pouring forth of ideas connected by no other link than that of association; though so fine was his mind, that his ideas flowed methodically—of their own accord, so to speak.
Character the Result of Conduct regulated by Will.—It is not necessary to say a word about the dignity and force of character which a confirmed will gives to its possessors. In fact, character is the result of conduct regulated by will. We say, So-and-so has a great deal of character, such another is without character; and we might express the fact equally by saying, So-and-so has a vigorous will, such another has no force of will. We all know of lives, rich in gifts and graces, which have been wrecked for the lack of a determining will.
Three Functions of the Will.—The will is the controller of the passions and emotions, the director of the desires, the ruler of the appetites. But observe, the passions, the desires, the appetites, are there already, and the will gathers force and vigour only as it is exercised in the repression and direction of these; for though the will appears to be of purely spiritual nature, yet it behaves like any member of the body in this—that it becomes vigorous and capable in proportion as it is duly nourished and fitly employed.
A Limitation of the Will disregarded by some Novelists.—The villain of a novel, it is true, is, or rather used to be, an interesting person, because he was always endowed with a powerful will, which acted not in controlling his violent passions, but in aiding and abetting them: the result was a diabolical being out of the common way of nature. And no wonder, for, according to natural law, the member
which does not fulfil its own functions is punished by loss of power; if it does not cease to be, it becomes as though it were not; and the will, being placed in the seat of authority, is not able to carry its forces over to the mob—the disorder would be too fearful; just as when the executive powers of a state are seized upon by a riotous mob, and there are shootings in the highways and hangings form the lanterns, infinite confusion everywhere.
Parents fall into this Metaphysical Blunder.—I am anxious to bring before you this limitation of the will to its own proper functions, because parents often enough fall into the very metaphysical blunder we have seen in the novel-writer. They know that if their child is to make his mark in the world, it must be by force of will. What follows? The baby screams himself into fits for a forbidden plaything, and the mother says, ‘He has such a strong will.’ The little fellow of three stands roaring in the street, and will neither go hither nor thither with his nurse, because ‘he has such a strong will.’ He will rule the sports of the nursery, will monopolise his sisters’ playthings, all because of this ‘strong will.’ Now we come to a divergence of opinion: on the one hand, the parents decide that, whatever the consequence, the child’s will is not to be broken, so all his vagaries must go unchecked; on the other, the decision is, that the child’s will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression.
Wilfulness indicates want of Will Power.—But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child. He is
in a state of absolute ‘wilfulness,’—the rather unfortunate word we use to describe the state in which the will has no controlling power; willessness, if there were such a word, would describe this state more truly. Now, this confusion, in the minds of many persons, between the state of willfulness and that of being dominated by will, leads to mischievous results even where wilfulness is not fostered nor the child unduly repressed; it leads to the neglect of the due cultivation and training of the will, that almost divine possession, upon the employment of which every other gift be it beauty or genius, strength or skill, depends for its value.
What is Wilfulness?—What, then, is willfulness, if it be not an exercise of will? Simply this: remove bit and bridle—that is, the control of the will—from the appetites, the desires, the emotions, and the child who has mounted his hobby, be it resentment, jealousy, desire of power, desire of property, is another Mazeppa, borne along with the speed of the swift and the strength of the strong, and with no power at all to help himself. Appetite, passion, there is no limit to their power and their persistence if the appointed check to be removed; and it is the impetus of appetite or of passion, this apparent determination to go in one way and no other, which is called willfulness and mistaken for an exercise of will. Whereas the determination is only apparent; the child is, in fact, hurried along without resistance, because that opposing force which should give balance to his character is undeveloped and untrained.
The Will has Superior and Inferior Functions.—The will has its superior and its inferior, what may be called its moral and its mechanical,
functions; and that will which, for want of practice, has grown flaccid and feeble in the exercise of its higher functions, may yet be able for the ordering of such matters as going or coming, sitting or standing, speaking or refraining from speech.
The Will not a Moral Faculty.—Again, though it is impossible to attain moral excellence of character without the agency of a vigorous will, the will itself is not a moral faculty, and a man may attain great strength of will in consequence of continued efforts in the repression or direction of his appetites or desires, and yet be an unworthy man; that is, he may be keeping himself in order from unworthy motives, for the sake of appearances, for his own interest, even for the injury of another.
A Disciplined Will necessary to Heroic Christian Character.—Once again, though a disciplined will is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic Christian character. A Gordon, a Havelock, a Florence Nightingale, a St Paul, could not be other than a person of vigorous will. In this respect, as in all others, Christianity reaches the feeblest souls. There is a wonderful Guido ‘Magdalen’ in the Louvre, with a mouth which has plainly never been set to any resolve for good or ill—a lower face moulded by the helpless following of the inclination of the moment; but you look up to the eyes, which are raised to meet the gaze of eyes not shown in the picture, and the countenance is transfigured, the whole face is aglow with a passion of service, love, and self-surrender. All this divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is
limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training—a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure.
The sole Practical Faculty of Man.—Before we consider how to train this ‘sole practical faculty of man,’ we must know how the will operates—how it manages the ordering of all that is done and thought in the kingdom of Mansoul. “Can’t you make yourself do what you wish to do?” says Guy, in the Heir of Redclyff, to poor Charlie Edmonston, who has never been in the habit of making himself do anything. There are those, no doubt, who have not ever arrived at wishing, but most of us desire to do well; what we want to know is, how to make ourselves do what we desire. And here is the line which divides the effective from the non-effective people, the great from the small, the good from the well-intentioned and respectable; it is in proportion as a man has self-controlling, self-compelling power that he is able to do, even of his own pleasure; that he can depend upon himself, and be sure of his own action in emergencies.
How the Will operates.—Now, how does this autocrat of the bosom behave? Is it with a stern ‘Thou shalt,’ ‘Thou shalt not,’ that the subject man is coerced into obedience? By no means. Is it by a plausible show of reasons, mustering of motives? Not this either. Since Mr John Stuart Mill taught us that “all that man does , or can do, with matter”
is to “move one thing to or from another,” we need not be surprised if great moral results are brought about by what seem inadequate means; and a little bit of nursery experience will show better than much talking what is possible to the will. A baby falls, gets a bad bump, and cries piteously. The experienced nurse does not “kiss the place to make it well,” or show any pity for the child’s trouble—that would make matters worse; the more she pities, the more he sobs. She hastens to ‘change his thoughts,’ so she says; she carries him to the window to see the horses, gives him his pet picture-book, his dearest toy, and the child pulls himself up in the middle of a sob, though he is really badly hurt. Now this, of the knowing nurse, is precisely the part the will plays towards the man. It is by force of will that a man can ‘change his thoughts,’ transfer his attention from one subject of thought to another, and that, with a shock of mental force of which he is distinctly conscious. And this is enough to save a man and to make a man, this power of making himself think only of those things which he has beforehand decided that it is good to think upon.
The Way of the Will.—Incentives.—His thoughts are wandering on forbidden pleasures, to the hindrance of his work; he pulls himself up, and deliberately fixes his attention on those incentives which have most power to make him work, the leisure and pleasure which follow honest labour, the duty which binds him to the fulfilling of his task. His thoughts run in the groove he wills them to run in, and work is no longer an effort.
Diversion.—Again, some slight affront has called up a flood of resentful feeling: So-and-so should not
have done it, he had no right, it was mean, and so on, through all the hard things we are ready enough to say in our hearts of an offender against our amour propre. But the man under the control of his own will does not allow this to go on: he does not fight it out with himself, and say, ‘This is very wrong in me. So-and-so is not so much to blame, after all. He is not ready for that yet; but he just compels himself to think of something else—the last book he has read, the next letter he must write, anything interesting enough to divert his thoughts. When he allows himself to go back to the cause of offence, behold, all rancor is gone, and he is able to look at the matter with the coolness of a third person. And this is true, not only of the risings of resentment, but of every temptation that besets the flesh and spirit.
Change of Thought.—Again, the sameness of his duties, the weariness of doing the same thing over and over, fills him with disgust and despondency, and he relaxes his efforts;—but not if he be a man under the power of his own will, because he simply does not allow himself in idle discontent; it is always within his power to give himself something pleasant, something outside of himself, to think of, and he does so; and, given what we call a ‘happy frame of mind,’ no work is laborious.
The Way of the Will should be taught to Children.—It is something to know what to do with ourselves when we are beset, and the knowledge of this way of the will is so far the secret of a happy life, that it is well worth imparting to the children. Are you cross? Change your thoughts. Are you tired of trying? Change your thoughts. Are you craving for things you are not to have? Change your thoughts;
there is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right. And this is the exceedingly simple way in which the will acts; this is the sole secret of the power over himself which the strong man wields—he can compel himself to think of what he chooses, and will not allow himself in thoughts that breed mischief.
Power of Will implies Power of Attention.—But you will perceive that, though the will is all-powerful within certain limits, these are but narrow limits after all. Much must go before and along with a vigorous will if it is to be a power in the ruling of conduct. For instance, the man must have acquired the habit of attention, the great importance of which we have already considered. There are bird-witted people, who have no power of thinking connectedly for five minutes under any pressure, from within or from without. If they have never been trained to apply the whole of their mental faculties to a given subject, why, no energy of will, supposing they had it, which is impossible, could make them think steadily thoughts of their own choosing or of anyone else’s. Here is how the parts of the intellectual fabric dovetail: power of will implies power of attention; and before the parent can begin to train the will of the child, he must have begun to form in him the habit of attention.
Habit may Frustrate the Will.—Again, we have already considered the fatal facility in evil, the impulse towards good, which habit gives. Habit is either the ally or the opponent, too often the frustrator, of the will. The unhappy drunkard does will with what strength there is in him; he turns away the eyes of
his mind from beholding his snare; he plies himself assiduously with other thoughts; but alas, his thoughts will only run in the accustomed groove of desire, and habit is too strong for his feeble will. We all know something of this struggle between habit and will in less vital matters. Who is without some dilatory, procrastinating, in some way tiresome, habit, which is in almost daily struggle with the rectified will? But I have already said so much about the duty of parents to ease the way of their children by laying down for them the lines of helpful habits, that it is unnecessary to say a word more here of habit as an ally or a hinderer of the will.
Reasonable Use of so effective an Instrument.—And, once more, only the man of cultivated reason is capable of being ruled by a well-directed will. If his understanding does not show good cause why he should do some solid reading every day, why he should cling to the faith of his fathers, why he should cling to the faith of his fathers, why he should take up his duties as a citizen,—the movement of his will will be feeble and fluctuating, and very barren of results. And, indeed, worse may happen: he may take up some wrong-headed, or even vicious, notion and work a great deal of mischief by what he feels to be a virtuous effort of will. The parent may venture to place the power of will in the hands of his child only in so far as he trains him to make a reasonable use of so effective an instrument.
How to Strengthen the Will.—One other limitation of the will we shall consider presently; but supposing the parent take pains that the child shall be in a fit state to use his will, how is he to strengthen that will, so that by and by the child may employ it to control his own life by? We have spoken already
of the importance of training the child in the habit of obedience. Now, obedience is valuable only in so far as it helps the child towards making himself do that which he knows he ought to do. Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, and he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can. That is the secret of the miscarrying of many strictly brought-up children. But invite his co-operation, let him heartily intend and purpose to do the thing he is bidden, and then it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours; he has begun the greatest effort, the highest accomplishment of human life—the making, the compelling of himself. Let him know what he is about, let him enjoy a sense of triumph, and of your congratulation, whenever he fetches his thoughts back to his tiresome sum, whenever he makes his hands finish what they have begun, whenever he throws the black dog off his back, and produces a smile from a clouded face.
Habit of Self-management.—Then, as was said before, let him know the secret of willing; let him know that, by an effort of will, he can turn his thoughts to the thing he wants to think of—his lessons, his prayers, his work, and away from the things he should not think of;—that, in fact, he can be such a brave, strong little fellow, he can make himself think of what he likes; and let him try little experiments—that if he once get his thoughts right, the rest will take care of itself, he will be sure to do right then; that if he fells cross, naughty thoughts coming upon him, the plan is, to think hard about something else, something nice—his next birthday, what he means to do when he is a man. Not all this at once, of course;
but line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, as opportunity offers. Let him get into the habit of managing himself, controlling himself, and it is astonishing how much self-compelling power quite a young child will exhibit. “Restrain yourself, Tommy,” I once heard a wise aunt say to a boy of four, and Tommy restrained himself, though he was making a terrible hullabaloo about some small trouble.
Education of the Will more important than that of the Intellect.—All this time, the will of the child is being both trained and strengthened; he is learning how and when to use his will, and it is becoming every day more vigorous and capable. Let me add one or two wise thoughts from Dr Morell’s Introduction to Mental Philosophy: “The education of the will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect. . . . Theory and doctrine, and inculcation of laws and propositions, will never of themselves lead to the uniform habit of right action. It is by doing, that we learn to do; by overcoming, that we learn to overcome; and every right act which we cause to spring out of pure principles, whether by authority, precept, or example, will have a greater weight in the formation of character than all the theory in the world.”