There is a large and a learned literature on the subject of the will. There is a philosophical and a theological, and there is a religious and an experimental literature on the will. Jonathan Edwards's well-known work stands out conspicuously at the head of the philosophical and theological literature on the will, while our own Thomas Boston's Fourfold State is a very able and impressive treatise on the more practical and experimental side of the same subject. The Westminster Confession of Faith devotes one of its very best chapters to the teaching of the word of God on the will of man, and the Shorter Catechism touches on the same subject in Effectual Calling. Outstanding philosophical and theological schools have been formed around the will, and both able and learned and earnest men have taken opposite sides on the subject of the will under the party names of Necessitarians and Libertarians. This is not the time, nor am I the man, to discuss such abstruse subjects; but those students who wish to master this great matter of the will, so far as it can be mastered in books, are recommended to begin with Dr. William Cunningham's works, and then to go on from them to a treatise that will reward all their talent and all their enterprise, Jonathan Edwards's perfect masterpiece.
1. But, to come to my Lord Willbewill, one of the gentry of the famous town of Mansoul:--well, this Lord Willbewill was as high-born as any man in Mansoul, and was as much a freeholder as any of them were, if not more. Besides, if I remember my tale aright, he had some privileges peculiar to himself in that famous town. Now, together with these, he was a man of great strength, resolution, and courage; nor in his occasion could any turn him away. But whether he was too proud of his high estate, privileges, and strength, or what (but sure it was through pride of something), he scorns now to be a slave in Mansoul, as his own proud word is, so that now, next to Diabolus himself, who but my Lord Willbewill in all that town? Nor could anything now be done but at his beck and good pleasure throughout that town. Indeed, it will not out of my thoughts what a desperate fellow this Willbewill was when full power was put into his hand. All which--how this apostate prince lost power and got it again, and lost it and got it again--the interested and curious reader will find set forth with great fulness and clearness in many powerful pages of the Holy War.
John Bunyan was as hard put to it to get the right name for this head of the gentry of Mansoul as Paul was to get the right name for sin in the seventh of the Romans. In that profoundest and intensest of all his profound and intense passages, the apostle has occasion to seek about for some expression, some epithet, some adjective, as we say, to apply to sin so as to help him to bring out to his Roman readers something of the malignity, deadliness, and unspeakable evil of sin as he had sin living and working in himself. But all the resources of the Greek language, that most resourceful of languages, utterly failed Paul for his pressing purpose. And thus it is that, as if in scorn of the feebleness and futility of that boasted tongue, he tramples its grammars and its dictionaries under his feet, and makes new and unheard-of words and combinations of words on the spot for himself and for his subject. He heaps up a hyperbole the like of which no orator or rhetorician of Greece or Rome had ever needed or had ever imagined before. He takes sin, and he makes a name for sin out of itself. The only way to describe sin, he feels, the only way to characterise sin, the only way to aggravate sin, is just to call it sin; sinful sin; 'sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful.' And, in like manner, John Bunyan, who has only his own mother tongue to work with, in his straits to get a proper name for this terrible fellow who was next to Diabolus himself, cannot find a proud enough name for him but just by giving him his own name, and then doubling it. Add will to will, multiply will by will, and multiply it again, and after you have done all you are no nearer to a proper name for that apostate, who, for pride, and insolence, and headstrongness, in one word, for wilfulness, is next to Diabolus himself. But as Willbewill, if he is to be named and described at all, is best named and described by his own naked name; so Bunyan is always best illustrated out of his own works. And I turn accordingly to the Heavenly Footman for an excellent illustration of the wilfulness of the will both in a good man and in a bad; as, thus: 'Your self-willed people, nobody knows what to do with them. We use to say, He will have his own will, do all we can. If a man be willing, then any argument shall be matter of encouragement; but if unwilling, then any argument shall give discouragement. The saints of old, they being willing and resolved for heaven, what could stop them? Could fire and fagot, sword or halter, dungeons, whips, bears, bulls, lions, cruel rackings, stonings, starvings, nakedness? So willing had they been made in the day of His power. And see, on the other side, the children of the devil, because they are not willing, how many shifts and starting-holes they will have! I have married a wife; I have a farm; I shall offend my landlord; I shall lose my trade; I shall be mocked and scoffed at, and therefore I cannot come. But, alas! the thing is, they are not willing. For, were they once soundly willing, these, and a thousand things such as these, would hold them no faster than the cords held Samson when he broke them like flax. I tell you the will is all. The Lord give thee a will, then, and courage of heart.'
2. Let that, then, suffice for this man's name and nature, and let us look at him now when his name and his nature have both become evil; that is to say, when Willbewill has become Illwill. You can imagine; no, you cannot imagine unless you already know, how evil, and how set upon evil, Illwill was. His whole mind, we are told, now stood bending itself to evil. Nay, so set was he now upon sheer evil that he would act it of his own accord, and without any instigation at all from Diabolus. And that went on till he was looked on in the city as next in wickedness to very Diabolus himself. Parable apart, my ill-willed brethren, our ill-will has made us very fiends in human shape. What a fall, what a fate, what a curse it is to be possessed of a devil of ill-will! Who can put proper words on it after Paul had to confess himself silent before it? Who can utter the diabolical nature, the depth and the secrecy, the subtlety and the spirituality, the range and the reach-out of an ill-will? Our hearts are full of ill-will at those we meet and shake hands with every day. At men also we have never seen, and who are totally ignorant even of our existence. Over a thousand miles we dart our viperous hearts at innocent men. At great statesmen we have ill-will, and at small; at great churchmen and at small; at great authors and at small; at great, and famous, and successful men in all lines of life; for it is enough for ill-will that another man be praised, and well-paid, and prosperous, and then placed in our eye. No amount of suffering will satiate ill-will; the very grave has no seal against it. And, now and then, you have it thrust upon you that other men have the same devil in them as deeply and as actively as he is in you. You will suddenly run across a man on the street. His face was shining with some praise he had just had spoken to him, or with some recognition he had just received from some great one; or with some good news for himself he had just heard, before he caught sight of you. But the light suddenly dies on his face, and darkness comes up out of his heart at his sudden glimpse of you. What is the matter? you ask yourself as he scowls past you. What have you done so to darken any man's heart to you? And as you stumble on in the sickening cloud he has left behind him, you suddenly recollect that you were once compelled to vote against that man on a public question: on some question of home franchise, or foreign war, or church government, or city business; or perchance, a family has left his shop to do business in yours, or his church to worship God in yours, or such like. It will be a certain relief to you to recollect such things. But with it all there will be a shame and a humiliation and a deep inward pain that will escape into a cry of prayer for him and for yourself and for all such sinners on the same street. If you do not find an escape from your sharp resentment in ejaculatory prayer and in a heart-cleansing great good-will, your heart, before you are a hundred steps on, will be as black with ill-will as his is. But that must not again be. Would you hate or strike back at a blind man who stumbled and fell against you on the street? Would you retaliate at a maniac who gnashed his teeth and shook his fist at you on his way past you to the madhouse? Or at a corpse being carried past you that had been too long without burial? And shall you retaliate on a miserable man driven mad with diabolical passion? Or at a poor sinner whose heart is as rotten as the grave? Ill-will is abroad in our learned and religious city at all hours of the day and night. He glares at us under the sun by day, and under the street lamps at night. We suddenly feel his baleful eye on us as we thoughtlessly pass under his overlooking windows: it will be a side street and an unfrequented, where you will not be ashamed and shocked and pained at heart to meet him. Public men; much purchased and much praised men; rich and prosperous men; men high in talent and in place; and, indeed, all manner of men,--walk abroad in this life softly. Keep out of sight. Take the side streets, and return home quickly. You have no idea what an offence and what a snare you are to men you know, and to men you do not know. If you are a public man, and if your name is much in men's mouths, then the place you hold, the prices and the praises you get, do not give you one-tenth of the pleasure that they give a thousand other men pain. Men you never heard of, and who would not know you if they met you, gnaw their hearts at the mere mention of your name. Desire, then, to be unknown, as A Kempis says. O teach me to love to be concealed, prays Jeremy Taylor. Be ambitious to be unknown, Archbishop Leighton also instructs us. And the great Fenelon took Ama nesciri for his crest and for his motto. No wonder that an apostle cried out under the agony and the shame of ill-will. No wonder that to kill it in the hearts of men the Son of God died under it on the cross. And no wonder that all the gates of hell are wide open, day and night, for there is no day there, to receive home all those who will entertain ill-will in their hearts, and all the gates of heaven shut close to keep all ill-will for ever out.
3. But, bad enough as all that is, the half has not been told, and never will be told in this life. Butler has a passage that has long stumbled me, and it stumbles me the more the longer I live and study him and observe myself. 'Resentment,' he says, in a very deep and a very serious passage--'Resentment being out of the case, there is not, properly speaking, any such thing as direct ill-will in one man towards another.' Well, great and undisputed as Butler's authority is in all these matters, at the same time he would be the first to admit and to assert that a man's inward experience transcends all outward authority. Well, I am filled with shame and pain and repentance and remorse to have to say it, but my experience carries me right in the teeth of Butler's doctrine. I have dutifully tried to look at Butler's inviting and exonerating doctrine in all possible lights, and from all possible points of view, in the anxious wish to prove it true; but I dare not say that I have succeeded. The truth for thee--my heart would continually call to me--the best truth for thee is in me, and not in any Butler! And when looking as closely as I can at my own heart in the matter of ill-will, what do I find--and what will you find? You will find that after subtracting all that can in any proper sense come under the head of real resentment, and in cases where real resentment is out of the question; in cases where you have received no injury, no neglect, no contempt, no anything whatsoever of that kind, you will find that there are men innocent of all that to you, yet men to whom you entertain feelings, animosities, antipathies, that can be called by no other name than that of ill-will. Look within and see. Watch within and see. And I am sure you will come to subscribe with me to the humbling and heart-breaking truth, that, even where there is no resentment, and no other explanation, excuse, or palliation of that kind, yet that festering, secret, malignant ill-will is working in the bottom of your heart. If you doubt that, if you deny that, if all that kind of self-observation and self-sentencing is new to you, then observe yourself, say, for one week, and report at the end of it whether or no you have had feelings and thoughts and wishes in your secret heart toward men who never in any way hurt you, which can only be truthfully described as pure ill-will; that is to say, you have not felt and thought and wished toward them as you would have them, and all men, feel and think and wish toward you.
4. 'To will is present with me, but how to perform I find not,' says the apostle; and again, 'Ye cannot do the things that ye would.' Or, as Dante has it,
'The power which wills Bears not supreme control; laughter and tears Follow so closely on the passion prompts them, They wait not for the motion of the will In natures most sincere.'
Now, just here lies a deep distinction that has not been enough taken account of by our popular, or even by our more profound, spiritual writers. The will is often regenerate and right; the will often bends, as Bunyan has it, to that which is good; but behind the will and beneath the will the heart is still full of passions, affections, inclinations, dispositions that are evil; instinctively, impulsively, involuntarily evil, even 'in natures most sincere.' And hence arises a conflict, a combat, a death-grip, an agony, a hell on earth, that every regenerate and advancing soul of man is full of His will is right. If his will is wrong; if he chooses evil; then there is no mystery in the matter so far as he is concerned. He is a bad man, and he is so intentionally and deliberately and of set purpose; and it is a rule in divine truth that 'wilfulness in sinning is the measure of our sinfulness.' But his will is right. To will is present with him. He is every day like Thomas Boston one Sabbath-day: 'Though I cannot be free of sin, God Himself knows that He would be welcome to make havoc of my sins and to make me holy. I know no lust that I would not be content to part with to-night. My will, bound hand and foot, I desire to lay at His feet.' Now, is it not as clear as noonday that in the case of such a man as Boston his mind is one thing and his heart another? Is it not plain that he has both a good-will and an ill-will within him? A will that immediately and resolutely chooses for God, and for truth, and for righteousness, and for love; and another law in his members warring against that law of his mind? 'Before conversion,' says Thomas Shepard, 'the main wound of a man is in his will. And then, after conversion, though his will is changed, yet, ex infirmitate, there are many things that he cannot do, so strong is the remnant of malignity that is still in his heart. Let him get Christ to help him here.' In all that ye see your calling, my brethren.
5. 'Now, if I do that I would not,' adds the apostle, extricating himself and giving himself fair-play and his simple due among all his misery and self-accusation--'Now, if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.' Or, again, as William Law has it: 'All our natural evil ceases to be our own evil as soon as our will turns away from it. Our natural evil then changes its nature and loses all its poison and death, and becomes an holy cross on which we die to self and this life and enter the kingdom of heaven.' My dear brethren, tell me, is your sin your cross? Is your sinfulness your cross? Is the evil that is ever present with you your holy cross? For, every other cross beside sin is a cross of straw, a cross of feathers, a paste-board and a painted cross, and not a real and genuine cross at all. The wood and the nails and the spear all taken together were not our Lord's real cross. His real cross was sin; our sin laid on His hands, and on His heart, and on His imagination, and on His conscience, till it was all but His very own sin. Our sin was so fearfully and wonderfully laid upon Christ that He was as good as a sinner Himself under it. So much so that all the nails and all the spears, all the thirst and all the darkness that His body and His soul could hold were as nothing beside the sin that was laid upon Him. And so it is with us; with as many of us as are His true disciples. Our sin is our cross; not our actual transgressions, any more than His; but our inward sinfulness. And not the sinfulness of our will; that is no real cross to any man; but the sinfulness of our hearts against our will, and beneath our will, and behind our will. And this is such a cross that if Christ had something in His cross that we have not, then we have something in ours that He had not. He made many sad and sore Psalms His own; but even if He had lived on earth to read the seventh of the Romans, He could not have made it His own. His true people are beyond Him here. The disciple is above his Master here. The Master had His own cross, and it was a sufficient cross; but we can challenge Him to come down and look and say if He ever saw a cross like our cross. He was made a curse. He was hanged on the tree. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. But his people are beyond Him in the real agony and crucifixion of sin. For He never in Gethsemane or on Calvary either cried as Paul once cried, and as you and I cry every day--To will is present with me! But the good that I would I do not! And, oh! the body of this death!
6. Now, if any total stranger to all that shall ask me: What good there is in all that? and, Why I so labour in such a world of unaccustomed and unpleasant things as that? I have many answers to his censure. For example, and first, I labour and will continue to labour more and more in this world of things, and less and less in any other world, because here we begin to see things as they are--the deepest things of God and of man, that is. Also, because I have the precept, and the example, and the experience of God's greatest and best saints before me here. Because, also, our full and true salvation begins here, goes on here, and ends here. Because, also, teaching these things and learning these things will infallibly make us the humblest of men, the most contrite, the most self-despising, the most prayerful, and the most patient, meek, and loving of men. And, students, I labour in this because this is science; because this is the first in order and the most fruitful of all the sciences, if not the noblest and the most glorious of all the sciences. There is all that good for us in this subject of the will and the heart, and whole worlds of good lie away out beyond this subject that eye hath not seen nor ear heard.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH