Preface and Introduction to the Home Education Series
Introduction - pg. 1
Part I - The Conscience
Chapter 1 - The Court Of Appeal - pg. 5
Chapter 2 - Teaching the Conscience - pg. 9
Chapter 3 - Conscience's Rulings In The House Of The Body: Moderation - pg. 12
Chapter 4 - The Rulings of Conscience in the House of the Body: Purity (Part 1) - pg. 21
Chapter 5 - The Rulings Of the Conscience In the House Of The Body: Purity (Part 2) - pg. 29
Chapter 6 - The Rulings of Conscience in the House of the Body: Purity (part 3) - pg. 33
Chapter 7 - The Rulings of the Conscience in the House of the Body: Fortitude - pg. 41
Chapter 8 - The Rulings of the Conscience in the House of the Body: Prudence - pg. 49
Chapter 9 - Opinions in the Air - pg. 56
Chapter 10 - The Untaught Conscience - pg. 60
Chapter 11 - The Instructed Conscience - pg. 68
Chapter 12 - Some of Conscience's Teachers: Poetry, Novels and Essays - pg. 71
Chapter 13 - Some of Conscience's Teachers: History and Philosophy - pg. 74
Chapter 14 - Some of Conscience's Instructors: Theology - pg. 79
Chapter 15 - Some Instructors of Conscience: Nature, Science, Art - pg. 97
Chapter 16 - Some of Conscience's Teachers: Sociology, Self-Knowledge - pg. 104
Chapter 17 - Conviction of Sin - pg. 109
Chapter 18 - Temptation - pg. 114
Chapter 19 - Duty and Law - pg. 121
Part II - The Will
Chapter 1 - The Will-less Life - pg. 126
Chapter 2 - The Will And Willfulness - pg. 129
Chapter 3 - The Will Itself Is Neither Moral Nor Immoral - pg. 137
Chapter 4 - The Will and Its Friends - pg. 141
Chapter 5 - The Functions of the Will - pg. 143
Chapter 6 - The Scope of the Will - pg. 147
Chapter 7 - Self-Control, Self-Restraint, Self-Command, Self-Denial - pg. 151
Chapter 8 - The Effort of Decision - pg. 156
Chapter 9 - Intention, Purpose, Resolution - pg. 160
Chapter 10 - A Way Of The Will - pg. 165
Chapter 11 - Freewill - pg. 170
Part III - The Soul
Chapter 1 - What The Soul is Capable Of - pg. 174
Chapter 2 - The Disabilities Of The Soul - pg. 177
Chapter 3 - The Knowledge of God - pg. 182
Chapter 4 - Prayer - pg. 188
Chapter 5 - Thanksgiving - pg. 191
Chapter 6 - Praise - pg. 194
Chapter 7 - Faith in God - pg. 197
Appendix - Discussion Questions for Book II - pg. 203
The future of education both in England and overseas is vague and depressing. We hear various urgent pleas -- science should be the focus of education, we need to reform the way we teach foreign language or math, we should incorporate more crafts and nature study to train the eye and hand, students need to learn how to write English and must therefore be familiar with history and literature. And on the other hand, we're being pressured to make education more vocational and utilitarian. But there's no coherent principle, no real aim. There's no philosophy of education. A stream can't rise any higher than the lake it flows from. In the same way, no educational work can rise above the thought and purpose behind it. Maybe this is the reason for all the failures and disappointments of our educational system.
Those of us who have spent many years researching the gentle, elusive vision of education have come to understand that various approaches have a law behind them, but we haven't yet discovered what it is. We can make out a dim outline of it, but that's it. We know that it's all-encompassing. There's no part of a child's home life or school work that isn't affected by that law. It's illuminating. It shows the value (or worthlessness) of all the thousands of various educational systems and programs. It isn't just a light, it's also a measure. It sets the standard by which to measure all educational work, whether small or great. That law is impartial and gracious. It will embrace anything that's true, honest, and respected. It sets no limits or obstacles, except where too much would be harmful. And the educational path that the law reveals is continuous and always advancing forward. There is no magical transition stage, progress is steady from birth to old age, except that, whatever habits are learned in youth will determine what choices are made even in adulthood. When we finally see the law for what it is, we'll find that certain German thinkers -- Kant, Herbart, Lotze, Froebel -- were right when they said that it's necessary to believe in God, so the most important thing to learn is knowledge of God. That should be the priority of education. There's one more way that we'll be able to recognize this perfect law that gives educational freedom when we see it. It's been said that, 'The best thing about absolute truth is that it works under every condition we can think of.' And that will be true of this law. No matter what experimental test or logical investigation we give it, it will pass.
We still haven't seen an outline or summary of this law. So, until we have something definite, we'll have to fall back on Froebel or Herbart, or, if we adhere to a different school of thought, Locke or Spencer. But we aren't content. We feel dissatisfied. Is it a divine discontent? If we found a workable, effective philosophy of education, we'd welcome it as deliverance from our perplexity. Before we find this great deliverance, there will probably be lots of tentative attempts. They'll all have the characters of a philosophy, more or less. Specifically, they'll have a central idea, a basic concept with various details working in harmony with it. This workable, effective theory of education could be called a system of psychology. It would have to work well with the accepted ideas of the time. It wouldn't think of education as an isolated, shut-off compartment, but as a natural part life, like birth, growing, marriage, or work. It would create a bond between the student and the great wide world, connected at many different points where interest was sparked. I know that some educational experts want to create that connection in many subjects, but their attempts are too random. They give a saying here, an idea there, but there's no common foundation to unify and support education as a complete unit.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. I don't want to seem presumptuous. I hope that there will be lots of ideas submitted towards a working philosophy of education, and that each one will bring us one step closer to discovering the best possible education. In that spirit, I offer my idea. The central foundational thought of my idea will sound rather obvious: the child is a whole, complete person with all the possibilities and capabilities already included in his personality. Some of the implications of this idea have been exploited by educational experts, and fragments of this idea are already pretty commonly accepted by common sense. For instance, take the aspect that education is the science of making relationships. That concept seems to solve the curriculum question. It shows that the main purpose of education is putting the child in living touch with as much of nature and thoughts as possible. If you add a couple of skills that help the child self-educate, then the student will go into the world after graduation with some ability to manage and control himself, a few hobbies to enrich his leisure time, and an interest in lots of things. I have two reasons for even attempting to offer my educational idea, even if my idea is tentative and will probably be replaced by an even better idea. For the last 30-40 years, I've worked unceasingly to come up with a philosophical educational theory that works practically. Also, each of the following educational principles is something that came about by inductive processes, and has been proved with long and varied experiments. I hesitate to share my findings because I know that, in the field of education, there are many workers more capable and more knowledgeable than I am. Even they aren't bold enough to offer answers because the footing is so precarious! They are like the 'angels who fear to tread.'
But, if only to encourage their effort, I offer an amended version of a synopsis I included in the other volumes of my 'Home Education Series.' My approach isn't methodic. It's more incidental--here a little, there a little. That seemed like the best way to make it practical for parents and teachers. I should add that the various essays in this book were originally written for the Parents National Educational Union (PNEU) to provide the society with a unified theory.
Whichcote meant that the end result of truth is so great, that we must be careful to make sure that what we live by is, indeed, the truth.
1. Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.
2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.
3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.
4. Authority is not a license to abuse children, or to play upon their emotions or other desires, and adults are not free to limit a child's education or use fear, love, power of suggestion, or their own influence over a child to make a child learn.
5. The only three means a teacher may use to educate children are the child's natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts. This is what CM's motto "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" means.
6. "Education is an atmosphere" doesn't mean that we should create an artificial environment for children, but that we use the opportunities in the environment he already lives in to educate him. Children learn from real things in the real world.
7. "Education is a discipline" means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control, both in actions and in thought.
8. "Education is a life" means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child's curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included.
9. The child's mind is not a bucket to be filled with facts that bunch up into thought-groups, as Herbart said.
10. The child's mind is also not a bag for holding knowledge. It is a living thing and needs knowledge to grow. As the stomach was designed to digest food, the mind is designed to digest knowledge and needs no special training or exercises to make it ready to learn.
11. This is not just splitting hairs; Herbart's philosophy that the mind is like an empty stage waiting for bits of information to be inserted puts too much responsibility on the teacher to prepare detailed lessons. Students taught this way have lots of knowledge taught at them, without getting much out of it.
12. Instead, we believe that children's' minds are capable of digesting real knowledge, so we provide a rich, generous curriculum that exposes children to many interesting, living ideas and concepts. From this principle, we can deduce that--
13. "Education is the science of relations," which means that children have minds capable of making their own connections with knowledge and experiences, so we make sure the child learns about nature, science and art, knows how to make things, reads many living books and that they are physically fit. Our job isn't to teach everything about everything, but to inspire interests that will help children make connections with the world around him.
14. Children have two guides to help them in their moral and intellectual growth - "the way of the will," and "the way of reason."
15. Children must learn the difference between "I want" and "I will." They must learn to distract their thoughts when tempted to do what they may want but know is not right, and think of something else, or do something else, interesting enough to occupy their mind. After a short diversion, their mind will be refreshed and able to will with renewed strength.
16. Children must learn not to lean too heavily on their own reasoning. Reasoning is good for logically demonstrating mathematical truth, but unreliable when judging ideas because our reasoning will justify all kinds of erroneous ideas if we really want to believe them.
17. Knowing that reason is not to be trusted as the final authority in forming opinions, children must learn that their greatest responsibility is choosing which ideas to accept or reject. Good habits of behavior and lots of knowledge will provide the discipline and experience to help them do this.
Principles 15, 16 and 17 should save children from the sort of careless thinking that causes people to exist at a lower level of life than they need to.
18. We teach children that all truths are God's truths, and that secular subjects are just as divine as religious ones. Children don't go back and forth between two worlds when they focus on God and then their school subjects; there is unity among both because both are of God and, whatever children study or do, God is always with them.
These books are called the 'Home Education Series' based on the title of the first volume, not because they deal wholly or in principle with 'home' as opposed to 'school' education.
Perhaps the reason we fail to pass on moral, Christian principles to our youth is because our own understanding is sketchy and based mostly on appeals to the emotions through songs and stories. Those may be inspiring, but we can't rely only on them. Emotional response is short-lived, and the heart is dulled and hardened with too much repetition. On the other hand, intellectual knowledge gleaned from clear and ordered teaching seems to be long-lasting and steady. Children and youths are as able to take in what's presented to their minds as adults are. And, like adults, they enjoy an intellectual appeal to their understanding when it reveals to them the basics of human nature, which we all share.
In this volume, I've assumed that everyone has the potential for all beautiful and noble possibilities--but that each person is also subject to attacks and obstacles in various forms. We need to be aware of what they are so that we can 'watch and pray.' Rules about do's and don'ts are boring to children and adults alike, but a well-planned presentation of the possibilities that lie in human nature and their corresponding risks are sure to be enlightening and stimulating. This book is intended as an appeal to students to make the most of themselves. God's law tells them to do this and they have vast possibilities within themselves to succeed.
Book I (Self-Knowledge) was written for students under age sixteen. Book II (Self-Direction) might appeal to students of all ages. Young men and women especially might welcome the opportunity to work through some of the questions that puzzle them in their own minds. This book can be used by parents and elementary teachers to help with formation of character [starting with children as young as 8 or 9]. If even six students in every school using this book got a vision of what was possible for them, and what to aim for, we would see some improvement in character across the entire nation in a single generation. Our moral teaching has this in common with our intellectual education: we focus too much on utilitarian purposes. But something deeper than earning a wage is needed if we want to inspire students and see profound changes. My intended audience is boarding school students in the middle to upper forms (Forms III and up, which correspond to grades 7-12), as well as those indicated above.
The two books have been published separately so that the appropriate volume can be put in the hands of the students who need it. But, since parents and teachers should study this material themselves before they teach it to their students, both books count as one single volume (Volume 4) in the 'Home Education' series. There are questions at the back for more serious students. The casual ordering of students by adults might have more meaning if it were done according to the laws of human nature as outlined in these books. The scheme of thought seems like common sense morality, as laid out in Scripture.
I've expanded the systems of morality that expert ethics authors formulated. I wanted to include every possible kind of goodness that might be lying dormant in normal human beings. I've tried to define certain limits of reason, conscience and the will. Disregarding those elements is a common cause for bad conduct.
The existence of God, man's capacity to relate to God, and the crippled and incomplete character that results when man fails to relate to God are all discussed in the book. These issues are the kind of knowledge that relates to the purpose of man. The allusions and quotes that enhance and illuminate the text were carefully chosen from sources that would be familiar to everyone. The object is to hold the reader's attention and focus it on the teaching of Sir Walter Scott, or Plutarch, rather than to use unknown sources. Most people feel more comfortable with what they already know something about.
AMBLESIDE, May 1905
A rather arbitrary use of terms like 'demon' has been used where it would make the point clearly.
The very concept of self-management and self-perception implies that we have a duality within ourselves. There's a part of us that reverences, and a part that is reverenced. There's a part of ourselves who knows, and a part who is known. Part of us controls, and part is controlled. This dual self is probably our deepest, most intimate consciousness, yet our least-acknowledged. We're a little intimidated by metaphysics, but even more afraid of self-consciousness, and we don't bother to consider why we're intimidated.
It's a good thing that we're hesitant to wander into the regions of the mind that we don't understand because we wouldn't know how to bring back anything good from there. And it's good that we shrink from the kind of consciousness of self that makes us aware of our individual quirks so that we become sensitive, or embarrassed, or even proud. We've let our fear of danger, like monsters on the right and on the left, keep us from entering the path at all--yet this path is the way to the haven where we want to be.
This isn't the time or place to try to give psychological explanations of our two selves. Our task at hand is to gain a clear idea of what we'll call our objective self, whose behavior is controlled by our just-as-troublesome subjective self, which we're all unpleasantly too much aware of.
One of the causes of misery for sensitive children and youths is a sense of worthlessness of their poor, aspiring and all-too-prominent self. They're painfully aware that they're irritable, awkward, rude and hateful. How can anybody like them? If their mother does, then it must be because she doesn't see how unlikable they really are. Vanity, which seeks for the approval of others, is possible for anyone, even a good-natured child. But I doubt that conceit is possible for anyone other than unexceptional minds who are content to shape their opinions upon what they think those around them think, even when it comes to their own opinion of themselves.
But for the uneasy youth whose primary job in life is navigating an unknown boat, a little bit of knowledge about what the boat can carry and what it can do are helpful. It also helps to relieve a person from being obsessed with the subjective self. We become aware of it on the day we eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, and leave the bliss of unconscious awareness as innocent children. That awakening happens to all of us. It isn't necessarily something to feel guilty about, but it does make many of us uneasy and causes us to doubt our worth.
Any attempt to figure out where each of the selves starts and stops baffles us. We can't tell where one starts and the other one ends. But after convincing ourselves that we're just one person, we become aware again of ourselves as two. Maybe we can say that one is the unsatisfactory self, and the other is the self of great and beautiful possibilities, which we sense is an integral part of us. That may be the best we can do at understanding this difficult concept about our nature. It might help to think of the human soul as a huge country estate that we have to manage. By soul, I mean all that we are, both inside and out: all our powers of thought, knowing, loving, making decisions, appreciating, willing, achieving. What is a human soul worth? There's only one authoritative estimate. When the soul is put on a scale against the whole world, then the whole world, with all its beauty and glory, is as if it weighed nothing in comparison. But we miss the value of these words of Jesus because we assume He's speaking of a relative value, not an intrinsic value. We don't realize that the soul of a man is infinitely great, beautiful and precious. This is partly because religion mostly teaches self-abasement and reserve, even though that's not what Jesus taught.
M. Maeterlinck, a wise author from Belgium, proved how great the soul is. His proof is all the more remarkable because he doesn't approach it from a religious perspective, but as an outside witness. He probably hasn't added anything new to the field of psychology, but he has reminded us of the great things about life. We need to be reminded of this again and again, so he's done us a service. His evidence is Emily Bronte. She was a delicate girl raised practically in isolation, in a remote parsonage. Yet she was able to write about the depths of human passion, feel human tragedy, and articulate fruits of human wisdom. That shows the immeasurable range of the human soul. It's even more surprising because she wasn't especially virtuous, nor especially accomplished as compared to someone like Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Rembrandt, Dante, Darwin or Howard. When we consider them, we begin to see how immense the soul really is, and how large God must be to be able to measure all things, and affect all people. But we don't give enough credit to the great men in the world because we can only measure their greatness against our own souls. We can't even conceive of how great they really were.
Is there any such thing as a little-minded person? Maybe not. Perhaps all the qualities that make a person great exist in varying amounts in all of us, but some are developed more than others. That seems to be what Christ taught, and many poor, seemingly insignificant souls have proven to be large enough to make room for His greatness.
But here is another example of the lesser being blessing (or cursing?) the greater being. Our own under-developed souls are distressfully lacking. Yet, with our pitiful souls, we determine the eternal destiny of our greater self, whose limits have never been discovered. It's like the relationship between a country and its government. The country is the more important of the two, but the country has to depend on its government, for better or worse, to develop it.
If the soul is like a country depending on its government to fulfill all it can be as a person, then who's doing the governing? I can't use any answers from psychology yet because psychology is still trying to decide whether the spirit exists or not! Intuition tells me that our ancient guide, philosophy, won't provide the full answer. What all people have found to be true of human nature should help in deciding how to conduct our inner life in the same way that what's found to be true of the world (like, the times of the rising of the sun) helps us plan our physical life. The way it seems is more useful for our purposes, even if it isn't psychologically accurate.
I don't know of any book to recommend for parents to help teach their children how to live the way I've indicated. The books I know of are either specifically religious, or specifically about ethics. So I've written an outline myself of the kind of teaching I have in mind. It can be used with bright children, or youths from ages 8 or 9 and up.
I think that, when mothers want to teach something to their children, they should learn what they want to teach, and then talk about it, a little at a time, perhaps as informal Sunday talks. This would help children to have a sense that our relationship with God is something that embraces every facet of our lives. Older students might prefer to read the book to themselves, or with their parents. If the book is done as a family, the more advanced teaching that's appropriate for the older students will go over the heads of their younger siblings.
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In Book 1 of Ourselves, which deals with Self-knowledge, I tried to present a panoramic view of the Kingdom of Mansoul. I'll continue using the term 'Mansoul.' It comes from John Bunyan, and I can't think of a better phrase that illustrates what it's like to look at a large country estate from the outside any better than that one. In Book 1, we pretended to look down from above, getting a bird's eye view of the rich treasures in Mansoul and the wonderful possibilities for every human being entering into the world as if he's born into a great inheritance.
All of the beauty and great thoughts in the world are available to everyone. Everyone may receive what he needs and use it to serve the world. Everyone can climb the 'delectable mountains' within his own nature, and from there, get
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a vision of the City of God. Yes, Mansoul has unlimited resources and glorious possibilities. But it also has various dangers, and any one of them risks devastation and ruin. But none of these dangers is inevitable, because Mansoul has an established government. It might be helpful to think of this government as divided into four Houses.
We saw how the House of the Body is kept going by the Appetites, but if any of these appetites gains total control, it brings ruin. The five senses are like attendants going between body and mind and serving them both.
The House of the Mind is specially outfitted with the perfect equipment for gathering knowledge. 'Lessons are fun, they enrich life and provide ability,' is written above its doors. Inside is everything needed to deal with knowledge of all kinds. Intellect is waiting to seize on all sorts of knowledge. Imagination takes living pictures of glorious things from the past and strange things from far away places. The Beauty Sense loves to say, 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever,' and is always ready to take hold of any lovely thing in pictures, poems, flowers or heavens, and save them as something to be enjoyed forever. Reason is eager to understand causes and consequences, and to know the 'why's' of every fact that enters the mind. And, to make sure that the Mind, with these useful assistants, doesn't become an empty place left vacant and decaying, there are certain Desires that drive us to feed the Mind in the same way that our Appetites spur us to feed our bodies.
Just as our bodily Appetites carry the possibility for abuse and excess that can ruin Mansoul, each of
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the noble qualities of the Mind also has its own demons that threaten to paralyze the part of the Mind it affects, or distort and weaken the Mind altogether.
The House of the Heart is ruled by two kind aides, Love and Justice. Sympathy, goodwill, empathy, thoughtfulness, graciousness, thankfulness, bravery, faithfulness, modesty and cheerfulness are Love's attendants. Justice also has its attendants. They are impartiality, genuineness, clarity, integrity, honesty and accuracy.
Moderation, sobriety and purity are also members of the Household of Justice. They help us to show Justice to our own selves. But even these have their own demons. Getting through life safely depends on recognizing and also on avoiding the bad tendencies that are ready to wreak devastation on the House of the Heart. We all know how the temptation to be fearful, mean, rude, slanderous, envious and unkind in lots of other ways can trip us up. The dangers are great and the risks are many. Many a fine Mansoul gets caught in the pitfalls and perishes without ever realizing the vast wealth at his disposal. He is like a prince raised as a poor peasant who is totally unaware of his birthright. But all who begin to understand the possibilities that are available to Mansoul, and who also know how many perils are out there, will know that they have a duty to manage themselves. All the powers they need for this self-direction are within them every bit as much as intellect, imagination, hunger and thirst.
The powers within us that govern Mansoul are
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the Conscience and the Will. But the Conscience, even if it's the Conscience of a good Christian, isn't competent to make judgments about different things in life if it hasn't been taught. It would be like expecting an uneducated farmhand to solve a calculus equation.
The Conscience needs regularly scheduled, incremental lessons that affect the body, heart and mind. One of the purposes of this book is to draw attention to some of the things that the Conscience needs to learn, and what the goals of its lessons should be. The affairs of the heart are vitally connected to the mind and body. Much of what we need to consider at this point is what's already included in Book I (Self-Knowledge).
The Will is the second highest of all the powers of Mansoul, and also needs some instruction. People tend to assume that the Will acts automatically, but none of the powers of Mansoul acts by itself. The Will, as Prime Minister, orders every other power in Mansoul, and a little bit of knowledge about the way it works will help us to understand its functions.
It's also a good idea for us to understand a little about the Soul, which is what we're calling the part of us that knows and loves God, is able to praise, pray and have faith, and decides whether or not to enthrone the rightful King over Mansoul. We can be sure that God our Creator is honored when we make an effort to understand the abilities and dangers that go along with the human nature He has given us.
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Things don't just go right in Mansoul all by themselves. We've already seen how the various powers in the body, mind and heart are always jostling, trying to get total control of Mansoul. Even the best of Mansoul's government servants have their own personal demons trying to trip them up. But there's a safety mechanism in place to keep everything in check, and to keep rivalry from causing problems. There's a Court of Appeals that's always open, with the Lord Chief Justice on duty. We call him Conscience. Let's take a minute and think about what a judge does in a court of law. He doesn't automatically know who's right and who's wrong in each case. He isn't expected to know. Advocates from both sides get up and present the facts and their best arguments to the judge. He, as the authority who understands the law, gives the right decision based on the information he's given.
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Everyone has a sense of duty, and Conscience is no exception. His own duty is proclaiming what the law says, and what everyone's duty is. No Mansoul is left alone without a sense of the right things he ought to be doing. Everyone knows that certain things are required of him, and that he has to answer to a Higher Authority for what he does. The things that are due from us (duty) and what we owe others (ought) is what Conscience tells us. We don't belong to ourselves. We belong to God, Who made us. He has placed a Conscience within each of us to continually remind us that we owe ourselves to Him. Conscience reminds us that it's our duty to make sure that what we do pleases Him. He reminds us that God is our judge, and He will deal with every offense, surely and directly. It might not be today, but it will happen. Conscience also lets us know that the reason for this judging is for our good. It's to save us. It continually calls us back when we get into wrong ways that injure and hurt us. It draws us back to right ways of peace and happiness. Conscience asserts all these things to us, every morning, every hour. He tells us that we're not free to do whatever we feel like, but we need to do the things we ought.
But if every Mansoul has a Conscience giving judgments, then why is it that so many people do wrong things? As we've seen already, there can sometimes be anarchy in the government because laziness, or temper, or pride, or envy betrays Mansoul.
I won't dwell on the fate of those who won't listen to their Conscience. The point I want to make is that there's danger even for those who do listen. We sometimes hear that someone 'acted according to his lights' [i.e., he based his actions on what he thought seemed best when he didn't have all the information]. However wrong he may have been, there are people who will excuse him because he didn't know any better. If the person had no opportunity to know better,
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then the excuse is valid. But we should never think that it's acceptable to make decisions 'according to our lights' if we allow ourselves to carry a tiny penlight when we could light up the whole room with the flip of a switch.
A judge isn't automatically familiar with the details of a case he's going to decide. It's the same way with the judge within ourselves. Just like a court judge, he also listens to advocates from each side. Inclination hires Reason to plead his case in front of the judge. Reason can be so subtle and convincing that the judge (our Conscience) might pass the verdict in the defendant's favor. Conscience says, 'Obey the law,' and Reason says, 'But what the defendant is doing is obeying the law.' And Conscience allows the defendant to do it. This subtle tactic of misleading one's own Conscience is an art that's practiced by both little children and hardened criminals. This is one way that a person can 'act according to his lights.' He finds a way to justify himself, his Reason finds logical arguments to convince his Conscience that what he's doing is right under the circumstances, and Conscience gives the okay. He continues to cry out, 'You must do the right thing!' but he leaves his members to define what's right for themselves.
There are lots of reasons why it's good for us to know this limitation of our Conscience. For one thing, it helps us to understand why and how some people and nations have done certain things throughout history.
We all need to know something about the make-up of Mansoul so that we can tell who's speaking to Reason, persuading him to convince the Conscience. It's not always apparent at first. Envy, for example, won't come right out and say, 'I hate James because his father can afford to buy him whatever he wants' or 'because he always does better than me, whether in lessons
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or in sports' or 'because everybody likes him.' Instead, envy will pretend that all he wants is what's fair for everyone. 'It's not right that one person should always have extra money to spend while somebody else has to scrimp and do without.' 'James just got a lucky break because of a fluke in the scoring.' 'James will do anything to be popular, no respectable person would do all that.' With these kinds of arguments, Envy persuades Reason, and Reason makes a convincing case before the Conscience, and the defendant gets off scot-free.
But once a person realizes that putting anyone else down to make himself look better is motivated by envy rather than justice, he'll be careful. He'll keep his tongue from evil and his thoughts from hatred--and he'll submit to his Conscience when its unbiased judgment reprimands him.
This kind of looking at things sincerely and directly is what Jesus calls a 'pure' or 'single eye.' [Matt 6:22] Some people automatically have it, so they're not easily deceived into calling what's wrong right. But evil is tricky and always ready. It's wise for all of us to try hard to recognize when misrepresentations are brought before our Conscience. A Conscience that's been well-educated rarely makes mistakes.
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An educated conscience knows that Moderation, Purity, Constancy and Carefulness must have control in this House of the Body. But how do you educate a conscience? Life itself brings us many opportunities to learn. For instance, when we see other people do something right, our conscience approves and learns a lesson. But when we see people doing something wrong, our conscience condemns it. But we need a wider variety of examples than our personal sphere of life can give us. That's why books make the best teachers.
Every noble, beautiful thing that can be done is described in living detail in the vast treasury of literature. History and biography do a good job of teaching decency, but the best moral teaching comes from literature--poetry, essays, plays and novels. Writing about real people doesn't allow the author to truly express his insight. Autobiographies are another way to lift the veil to another person's thoughts, because the writer is free to say whatever he wants. The Bible tells about the lives of people and the history of a nation without the reserve that a lot of authors use when they write about the bad things that heroes did, or the faults of evil people.
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Plutarch might be the only biographer who writes with as much impartiality, although not always with the same justice.
Children get moral concepts from the fairy tales they love, in the same way that grown ups get it from novels and poems. Matthew Arnold, who is an excellent critic, says that poetry is an examination of life. And so it is, both a examination and an inspiration. Most of us carry around little snippets of verse inside our minds that influence what we do more than we're aware of, such lines as:
So many wonderful thoughts that kindle flames of reflection come to us in the form of poetry, in wings of verse. Just imagine how empty our lives would be if we woke up and discovered that the entire book of Psalms had vanished from the earth and even disappeared from our memories! Proverbs, which are sayings of wise kings and wise words from common people, come to us as if they were divine utterances. Essays deal with how we act. They give us a lot of delicate lessons that reach us more effectively because their style is so charming.
Novelists and playwrights have possibly done the most for us when it come to learning. But not all novels and plays are good 'as examples of life and teaching proper behavior.' [2 Tim 3:16] It's safest for us to stick with works that have been around long enough to become classics. There are two reasons for this. That fact that
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they don't die proves that the author had something timeless to say, and in such a way, that the world needs. Also, older stories and plays deal with conduct, and learning what to do and how to act is the most important thing in our lives. Modern [1900-ish] literature deals more with emotions, and that's not the healthiest subject for reflection. Once we find a book that has a message for us, let's not make the mistake of saying we've already read it once. That's like saying we've already had breakfast and don't ever need to eat again. A book that helps us deserves to be read again and again, because assimilation [so that the book becomes a part of us] comes little by little.
Literature is full of valuable lessons about how to control our physical nature, in the form of both rules and examples. I'll give illustrations here and there to show what I mean, but I have no doubt you'll be able to think of better lessons from my examples. And that's fine, that's just the way teaching from literature should come to us--a little here, a little there, casually as we read on because we're interested in the story, or because the poem is so beautiful, or the writing has such marvelous style.
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Who can forget how 'the fortunes of Nigel' [by Sir Walter Scott] changed because of the dish that Laurie Linklater cooked to please the King? The story is told humorously, but even all of the King's wisdom can't help us to get over the cock-a-leekie [chicken and leek] soup! This is how Sir Walter Scott prepares us: 'None of these brave English cooks can satisfy the King's noble tastes with our own Scottish recipes. So I used my skill to cook up a whole bunch of friar's chicken for the soup, and a delicious haggis [sausage] that won everyone's applause. Instead of being disgraced, I became a favorite.' He approached King James with these same bold Scottish meals and Linklater's unbelievable character becomes the person who resolves the plot. Richie Moniplies 'reached the palace safely and demanded to see Laurie Linklater, the under-clerk in the royal kitchen. But the cook wouldn't be disturbed to speak to him. He was too busy cooking some cock-a-leekie soup for the King. Moniplies said, 'Tell him that a dear
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countryman needs to talk to him about something very important; I must speak to the king.' 'The king?' responded Linklater, being cautious. 'I want nothing to do with this matter. But look, I've just made some cock-a-leekie soup to be served to His majesty in his room. I won't prevent you from leaving your letter on the table when you bring him his soup. The king will see it when he picks up the bowl to drink the broth.'
And the book ends with the king's last word: 'Now, my lords and nobles, let's go to dinner, for the cock-a-leekie soup is cooling.'
What's so bad about that? Just that King James's moral integrity and intelligence are clouded, and his dignity is sacrificed because of his shameful failure to control himself in this and other matters. The patriarch Isaac also let his love for savory meat open him to the deception that divided his family. It's fine and even healthy to enjoy our food, but to love and crave any particular dish is the nature of immoderation. Plutarch tells us the same thing in his preface, talking about his childhood:
'One day our schoolmaster saw that we had indulged ourselves too luxuriously at lunch. During his afternoon lesson, he ordered his servant to whip his own son in our presence. He said the boy was being punished because he couldn't eat his food without condiments. All the time, the philosopher
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was watching us, and we knew who this example was intended for.'
We expect Le Balafré [Quentin Durward, by Sir Walter Scott] to act like a drunk because of his base nature, but it distresses us to see the generous, noble Lord Crawford losing his dignity and control of himself over drinking wine. The occasion is a banquet to welcome Quentin Durward's election. 'But for now, Lord Crawford refused to take the seat assigned to him. He told everyone to continue their fun, and stood watching the revelry with an expression of enjoyment. 'Leave him alone,' whispered Cunningham as Lindesay offered their noble Captain some wine. 'Leave him alone, there's no need to rush him, let him drink on his own. In fact, the old Lord just smiled at first and refused, setting the wine glass in front of him without even tasting it. But soon, he began absent-mindedly sipping a little. And then he remembered that it would be bad luck not to drink a toast to the brave guy who had joined them by winning the election. Of course, he had to be polite and join in the toast. Sliding into the assigned seat without thinking what he was doing, he made Quentin come to his side and asked him all kinds of questions about the general state of Scotland, and the important families there, which Quentin was well able to answer. Meanwhile, Lord Crawford slowly emptied his wine glass, commenting that it was proper for Scottish gentlemen to be sociable, but that young men like Quentin should do it
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cautiously so that too much socializing didn't degenerate into excess. And he said many excellent things about the subject, until his own tongue, although praising temperance, began to slur from too much wine.'
Times have changed since then. Some men may still drink, but not usually men who have Lord Crawford's dignity of character. People are beginning to understand that simple living goes hand in hand with high thinking. We're beginning to have more control in both eating and drinking, and the day is coming when excess in either will be shunned.
Maria Edgeworth's tale of Lazy Lawrence has become a classic illustration of laziness. [In volume 1 of The Parent's Assistant; Young Lawrence is too lazy to work and will do anything for money except work - gambling, cock fights, even theft. But little Jem is industrious and earns enough to prevent the family from having to sell their beloved horse.] Other more appealing characters have the same fault. For example, here is Harry Warrington, from The Virginians by Thackeray:
'Harry's lace and linen were as nice as his aunt could wish. He bought a beautiful shaving plate and some magnificent embroidered pajamas in which he could laze around and sip hot chocolate in the mornings. He had swords, fancy walking canes, French diamond-studded watches with hand-painted backs, and snuffboxes exquisitely decorated by French artists. He had a whole troop of grooms, jockeys, and tradesmen waiting to see him. They were admitted in to see him and Parson Sampson one at a time, by Gumbo, his head butler, while he enjoyed his hot chocolate. There's no telling how many servants Mr. Gumbo had under him. Certainly no single servant could have managed and maintained all of the fine things that Mr. Warrington owned now, not to mention the horses and carriage he had just bought. Harry also learned the arts that were proper for
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young gentlemen of those days. During the season when he lived at Tunbridge, he had a live-in fencing instructor and dance teacher, both French. He spent a lot of time working with them until he could do both with grace and skill. In just a few weeks, he could handle himself as well as anyone. He took riding lessons on a great horse owned by a riding instructor who came to Tunbridge, but decided that he'd rather ride like a Virginian.'
Here we have a picture of busy idleness--and idleness usually is busy. Hogarth painted the kinds of people that Thackeray describes who lived in the same kind of excessive luxury and abandoned idleness. Charles II was another one. Although he walked a lot, he shirked even the least hint of the work he should have been doing as king. Unfortunately, both history and fiction are full of men and women who never bother to seize opportunity when it presents itself.
There are more ways to be immoderate than eating too much, getting drunk and sleeping in. In The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes another type of idleness. Hepzibah Pyncheon, the lonely spinster, lived in The House of Seven Gables, and spent her days dreaming up odd castles in the air.
'All the time that Hepzibah was perfecting her idea for a little shop, she had an unrecognized notion in the back of her mind that some unforeseen bit
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of luck would come to her rescue. Perhaps her uncle, who had sailed to India fifty years ago and never been heard from again, might return and invite her to share his wealth in his old age, and adorn her with pearls, diamonds, oriental shawls, hats, and make her the sole heiress of his uncountable fortune. Or, perhaps, a member of Parliament who was currently head of the English side of the family which hadn't been in contact with the American side of the family for two hundred years, might invite Hepzibah to leave the House of Seven Gables and live with his family at Pynchion Hall. But, for her own important reasons, she wouldn't accept his offer.'
How do you excuse a lazy person?
Carlyle, who believed in hard work, had this to say about idleness in Past and Present: 'Who are you who brags about your
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life of ease, smugly shows off your fancy modern furniture, soft cushions, appliances to do everything including folding your hands to go to sleep? An idle person is like a monster. The latest proclamation in the world is to Know your job and do it. Know what you're capable of doing, and work at steadily, like Hercules. That's a wise plan.
'It's been written, 'There's a lot of significance in work.' A man perfects himself by working. Hideous tangled jungles are cleared away and replaced with beautiful productive fields of crops and magnificent cities. And man himself changes his own self from a jungle or barren desert and becomes--a man.'
The fact is, Conscience isn't as concerned with how immoderation is manifested in our lives so much as the underlying principle behind moderation. St. Paul wrote about it when he condemned people who 'worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.' It's by this principle that we'll be justified or condemned. In light of this, we have good reason to suspect any style of diet or exercise that encourages us to have too much concern for our physical body, whether it's a diet of nuts and fruit, peacock brains, or cock-a-leekie. England is in serious danger of giving herself over to worship of the goddess of health. But a more elusive goddess was never revered--the more she is pursued, the more she runs away. Yet she's ready and willing to bestow smiling favor on the person who never even casts a thought towards her. I say truthfully and sincerely that the pursuit of physical and mental well-being is becoming a cult. The
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danger of this kind of cult is that it makes us focus our attention on our own selves instead of on Christ.
We use 'faith' in our minds to create certain attitudes that make our minds and bodies feel better, and that makes us more comfortable. And we forget the danger of exalting the concerns of the creature above the worship of the Creator. The essence of Christianity is passionate love and loyalty towards a divine Person. Faith, which is the adoring regard of the soul, is supposed to help us be more like Jesus--'meek and lowly of heart.' Any kind of 'faith' that raises us up to some higher level should make us suspicious that we're trying to use Christ's power to serve ourselves and our comfort, more than God's glory.
Carlyle was right when he said that the state or lack of our own well-being isn't the central concern of the universe.
Excessive attention to our physical selves is one kind of immoderation. But even worse is neglecting our spiritual nature which enables us to do everything else. That's the root cause for the indifference of laziness, and the excess of greed. 'Take no thought for the life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink.' 'Eat whatever is set before you.' These are the rules God gave for us to keep our bodies in moderation, sobriety and purity. 'Take no thought,' because all sins against the body begin in our thoughts.
I may seem to have gotten off the subject of the Conscience and how it relates to moderation. But it's necessary to stay aware of the current trends of our times, as well as keeping guard over our own appetites. We live
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in our times. We need to realize that Reason can justify any strange trend, whether it's a fruit-eating colony in the Pacific, or living on one meal a day, or fasting and not allowing ourselves to eat or drink anything at all. Only a well-educated Conscience will safeguard us from being persuaded to follow such trends. When we're tempted to eat like primates or eat only nuts, let's be like Punch, and laugh some common sense into ourselves!
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In this area, too, the well-educated Conscience has a broad focus. God's Law forbids impurity of any kind, whether it's in our imagination, what we say or what we do. Everyone knows this. But do we understand that it's as important to preserve Love as Faith? The well-educated Conscience knows that any excessive affection or extravagant devotion pollutes the purity of any self-controlled person. Any relationship, even a friendship or fondness between a mother and child, is suspect to a clear Conscience if it becomes too absorbed and exclusive so that one person is constantly needed by the other, and other rightful duties and loyalties are neglected. To be a person's 'all in all' isn't really a pure desire except when it comes to the intimate relations of marriage. Purity of the soul is like the picture Giotto painted of being walled in with a tower. 'Do not touch' is the appropriate rule. Relationships that are too intimate and exclusive should be kept out.
The dangers of breaking this rule of a pure life is well illustrated in the sad
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tragedy of Edward II as written by Christopher Marlowe. Let's look at the story. One lesson like this taken from real life is worth a lot of advice and resolutions. Too much affection is a fault that tends to go along with a generous temperament, and Edward was generous,
What an example of friendship! Edward is eager to share his entire fortune with his friend. And Gaveston, for his part, is ready to repay Edward's love with his own love.
The nobles resent their affectionate devotion because they have their own legitimate demands on the new king's time and affection. They call a meeting and protest with prayers and threats of rebellion. Here is how the king ends the meeting:
And Gaveston adds, 'I won't be separated from my lord.'
Edward: 'What, Gaveston, you're here? Welcome! Kiss my hand.
Embrace me as I give you a friendly hug.
Why should you kneel before me? Don't you know who I am?
I'm your friend, the missing part of yourself; I'm like another Gaveston!'
Edward piles titles, land and honors on his friend generously. He even gives him his own seal of authority.
The nobles have another meeting to decide how to get rid of Gaveston, the 'ill-tempered Frenchman.' And that phrase is really rather accurate because the king's beloved favorite friend really was ill-tempered, quickly offended and resentful.
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'So, arm in arm the king goes with him,' said Lancaster. And Warwick added, 'And so, leaning on the king's arm, he nods and scorns and smiles at everyone who passes.'
Even his wife, Queen Isabella herself, complains.
The barons send Gaveston away to Ireland, and the king cries,
They exchange pictures of each other, and King Edward says,
Edward threatens and pleads with Isabella until she gives in and asks young Baron Mortimer to work on the nobles and have Gaveston's short exile ended. Isabella brings the good news to the king and is rewarded with affection for the moment. Edward is elated and showers rewards and praises on his nobles.
But, when Gaveston returns, he's as unbearable as ever, and the barons are just as intolerant. The king only cares about his friend and prepares for civil war to punish the nobles for 'their pride.' Once more
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the barons try to convince the king that his exclusive absorption in his friend is ruining the kingdom. The gifts, celebrations, balls and shows he's given to Gaveston 'have drained the treasury. There is threatened rebellion, which could result in the king's removal from the throne. The king's armies have been beaten out of France, wild Oneyl is making himself ruler of Ireland, the Scots are making unresisted attacks in north England, the Danes have control of the narrow seas.'
The peers don't even attend the royal court anymore. The citizens make up scornful songs and rhymes.
Does this change the king's mind? No. The criticisms of his barons make them traitors, as far as he's concerned. He says,
Things go from bad to worse until finally, the barons are exasperated and behead Gaveston. Will the kingdom now finally be rid of its unbearable burden? No. Even while the death of the king's favorite is still news, Edward says,
Spencer had also liked Gaveston, but it's only the king who is excessive in his affection. Exclusive, all-encompassing friendships are succeeded with new friendships that are just as absorbing. It isn't because of fickleness, but because a person who has been weakened and undermined is no longer able
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able to exist without the philandering affections that he's gotten used to.
The tragic tale continues with rebellion, insurrection, and civil war. The only gleam of brightness is the young Prince Edward, who believes in his father in spite of the things he hears.
When King Edward finds out that his wife dishonors him and his people are deserting him, he begins to think of his son.
Nothing changes. Queen Isabella has Spencer arrested right in front of the king.
There seems to be no doubt that his friends returned the love and devotion that this excessively attached king gave them.
Edward is imprisoned, and his final message is,
We won't follow Edward's sad tragedy to the end, but his question, 'What have I done wrong?' is a valuable lesson. His life was ruined, his country was devastated, his wife was dishonored, his loyal subjects were forced to become traitors and assassins--all of these things happened as a direct result of the king's behavior. Yet he asks at the end, 'What have I done wrong?' His uneducated
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Conscience didn't show him the fatal mistake of his life. He decided for himself which duties he would obey, and it appears that his list of life rules consisted of only one rule--Be faithful to your friend. It never occurred to him that we're not supposed to pick and choose between our duties, or that a duty we cling to can become a fault. You might think, 'Yes, that's true if you're a king. But, luckily, common people are free to do as they please.' But we're not. Each of us is like a king choosing among a thousand relationships, duties and interests that are appropriate for us. If we decide to give ourselves over to someone else so that our own will is paralyzed and we can't think or do anything unless they tell us to, and we can't be happy or relaxed unless they're with us, then we're just like Edward. We've sown disorder in our own realm. Our realm may be smaller and not as great as Edward's, but it's the realm that we're responsible for.
In general, men seem to have learned to have more restraint in their friendships than they did in the Tudor days when Marlowe thought it was necessary to offer this lesson to the world. Maybe in his day, men admired their friends with a more passionate fondness. But this isn't an issue of male/female. This affects relationships between school boys, girls, men and women, and ladies. It just seems like there are people who can't seem to live without a doting passion for some beloved. Here's another example:
'Our boarding house was filled with mystery and romance,' said Coquette, brightening. 'It was because of two young German ladies who were there. They introduced the practice of--what shall I call it?--exaltation. Do you know what I mean? When one girl makes another the object of her devotion because
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of her goodness or her beauty, and worships her. She kisses her dress when she passes her, and serves her in every way, but without speaking to her. And the girl who is the object of this worship is supposed to be proud and cold and show scorn for her worshiper, even if they had always been friends. It was the young German ladies from the Bohemian Forest who introduced it. They were tall and dark and very beautiful. Many girls wanted to worship them, but they were always the first to seek out one of the other girls to worship. No one was as humble and obedient as they were. The whole boarding house was filled with it. It became like a cult, an obsession. Some girls would even cry and kneel on the floor to express their love and admiration for the object of their adoration.' [from A Daughter of Heth by William Black]
Plutarch knew all about that. In his Life of Agesilaus, Agesilaus had a personal and very sensible reason to be uneasy about his attachment to Spithridates's son Megabates. While he was with him, he made a point of trying to resist his feelings of devotion. One day Megabates came up to say hello to him, and Agesilaus didn't return his greeting. From then on, Megabates was more distant with him. Agesilaus regretted that he had rebuffed Megabates and pretended he didn't know why Megabates was so cool with him. His friends told him it was his fault for not returning Megabates's greeting. They said, 'He would be glad to continue paying you the most friendly respects, just be sure you never brush him off again.' Agesilaus was silent for a while, thinking. Then he said, 'Don't mention any of this to him. This second victory
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over myself is more valuable to me than Midas's gift of turning things to gold.'
A generous heart approves of this kind of great affection. But a noble Mind and well-educated Conscience need to look beyond that and preserve the Soul's purity. We don't belong to ourselves. We have no right to give ourselves completely away with abandoned passion.
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But, for every illustration of an excessive relationship, there are a thousand examples of sensible, healthy and noble friendships. The classic examples of friendship are so well-known that I don't need to quote them. But here's one that's less familiar:
'You're my only friend, aren't you? So haven't you earned the right to share my wealth? Tell me that, Alan Fairford. When I was taken from my mother's lonely home and brought to the commotion of the Gaits' class at the High School, when I was teased because of my English accent, when they threw snow at me because I was from the south, when I was thrown into the gutter for a Saxon pock-pudding--who defended me with heavy arguments and even heavier punches? It was you, Alan Fairford. Who beat me soundly when I brought my arrogance from being an only son, and a spoiled brat, to the school's little republic? It was you, Alan. You taught me not to pick on weak people, but to stand up to the strong. You taught me not to repeat tales outside of school, to obey the stern order of a pande mamun ['hold out your hand'],
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and to endure my punishments without wincing, and to determine to be a better person for them. In other words, before I knew you, I didn't know anything. It was the same at college. When I was hopelessly idle, your example and encouragement roused me to try harder and showed me how to enjoy learning. You made me like history and metaphysics. In fact, you almost made me a defense lawyer just like yourself.' [Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott]
Even though the relationship between Alan Fairford and Darsie Latimer was sensible, it wasn't a loose, common-place friendship. Their friendship didn't take precedence over duty when things were going well. Alan worked hard preparing for his career and was an obedient and affectionate son even though his father was demanding. But when his friend is in danger, this clever Alan disregards his chances and risks his life with wholehearted devotion. As a young lawyer, he has made his first appearance with noted success in a difficult case. He is delivering his speech and persuading the court when he sees the slip of paper that tells him that Darsie is in trouble. 'He stopped short in his speech, stared at the paper with a look of surprise and horror, uttered an exclamation, threw down the notes he had in his hand, and rushed out of court without even answering the questions that followed him: 'What happened to him?' 'Did he suddenly get sick?' 'Should a substitute be called?' He writes a note to his father: 'I hope you won't be surprised or too displeased to hear that I'm on my way to Dumfriesshire to do my own investigation and find out the current state of my dear friend and give
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whatever help I'm able to. I hope it does some good. I can only say, in further apology, that if, heaven forbid, anything bad happens to the person who is dearest to me except yourself, I'll regret it for the rest of eternity.'
Elizabeth Gaskell, in the sincere and graceful style that distinguishes her writing, tells us in Wives and Daughters about the friendship between Molly Gibson and Cynthia Fitzgerald. Molly is a charming English girl with a sensible heart and mind. Cynthia, her step-sister, comes into her life like a beautiful, bewitching vision. Of course, Molly fell in love with her--girls don't just fall in love with men. Cynthia was just as attracted to Molly's freshness and simplicity. They spent many pleasant hours in Mrs. Gibson's parlor chatting and working. Both girls are kind and concerned about what's best for the other, experiencing the natural give-and-take of friendship. Cynthia tends to get involved with different men, and Molly has a difficult time when she has to do some unpleasant things to get Cynthia out of a serious dilemma. But she does them without sacrificing her integrity, and Cynthia submits to letting her friend help. Unfortunately, it's impossible to do justice in just a few sentences to their natural friendship that even disillusion couldn't shatter.
Young people often make the mistake of thinking that a friend has to be perfect. So, as soon as they begin to notice little failings, they think that they don't need to be loyal anymore. David Copperfield [Dickens] is a wonderful
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example of loyalty in life. The circumstances of David's life bring an unusual assortment of friends, but he's ready and willing to accept the friendship of all of them! With simple good-nature, he lets Mr. Micawber call him 'the friend of my youth,' and he listens to Mrs. Micawber's domestic secrets even though he's only a boy of ten years old! The Micawbers turn up at all kinds of inconvenient times, but David always welcomes them. Traddles is another friend, such a nice person. He and David share a healthy, generous relationship. David has a long list of friendships--Peggotty, Mr. Dick, Ham, Dr. Strong, Mrs. Peggotty and the rest. He finds something to like about every one of them. He honors, serves, and values each of them with complete loyalty. But none of these friends tries to control him or demand that he love them exclusively. He had one friend with whom he lost his individuality because he was so fascinated by him. This was Steerforth. The way he showed loyalty for him was by being sad about his shame rather than his death.
It's not the friends we choose who have exclusive rights over us. The friends who come into our lives here and there because of our circumstances are entitled to our loyalty. We get the same things from those friendships that David Copperfield did--kindness in return for our kindness, service for service, loyalty for loyalty. And we get these things in full measure, heaped up and overflowing. There's probably no better guide to friendship than this charming story about a life that was filled with generous, loyal friendships. It also shows us how fine purity of the soul is, and it warns us of a great impurity.
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It all begins so innocently, yet the result is disaster from which there's no treatment. People say it isn't fair that it should always be the woman who suffers while the man gets off scot-free. But does he really get away with it?
The die-hard reprobate is probably so far gone that he can't be any more degraded. But the man who falls into the sin of impurity for the first time loses his future as surely as the woman does, although it may not be as obvious. He may escape public disgrace, but he never recovers the loss of power, purpose and integrity that result from a loss of purity. He will be handicapped for the rest of his life, although he may not even remember why. If he eventually does get married, his children often repeat their father's sin.
It's worth our while to trace the history of one seduction. This is from the book Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell. Ruth is a friendless orphan who is apprenticed to a hat-maker. She is distinguished among her co-workers by her quiet, lady-like manners and by her beauty. 'How can I help knowing how pretty I am?' she answered simply, 'so many people have told me so.'
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She goes to the town dance with her employer, Mrs. Mason, and some of the other apprentices for the purpose of being on hand to mend rips in gown and things like that. One lady comes to Ruth with her fiancé to get a tear in her dress fixed. She is arrogant to Ruth, and the fiancé, Mr. Bellingham, is not pleased with her rudeness. He picks up a camellia and gives it to Ruth, saying, 'Here, allow me to give you this flower from Miss Dunscombe as a thank you for your skillful help.'
We admire Mr. Bellingham for his act of courtesy, and so does Ruth. She treasures the camellia and her thoughts dwell on the polite gentleman. She meets him again by accident under dramatic circumstances. She's trying to rescue a drowning child and he rides up just in time and saves the boy. This gives them a chance to speak again. He leaves his wallet with Ruth to buy whatever is needed for the boy. So, of course, she has to see him again to return his wallet and give an account of what she spent. Then they see each other at church a few times, and everything is still innocent, no wrong is intended. Next, we're introduced to Mr. Bellingham in his home.
'He thought more about Ruth than she thought about him, even though his appearance was a more momentous event in her life than his. He didn't analyze the nature of his feelings for her, he just enjoyed them with all the novelty that youth takes in experiencing any strong, new emotion. He was an only child, and hadn't formed the characteristic maturity that usually comes with adulthood. His discipline had been sporadic as it often is
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with only children. He had been hindered because of over-anxiety, and unwisely over-indulged because his parents' love had been so focused on one object. That's what had influenced his education.' With these words, the author gives us some insight into the situation and we begin to suspect what's going to happen. David Copperfield's friend Steerforth was the only son of a proud, indulgent, heedless mother. In Adam Bede, Arthur Donnithorne is the only son of a loving but domineering father. It seems like only children need to be more careful in life. Maybe that's because it's harder to sneak around in the midst of lots of brothers and sisters, and it's the deviousness that's the problem, whether the family's large or small. Young Mr. Bellingham finds himself fascinated, he doesn't know quite why. He's even more intrigued because 'she seemed to have some kind of a spell in her shyness that made her avoid and shun anyone who admired her and wanted to get to know her. He determined not to startle her with bold admiration or reckless, passionate words. He resisted the strong temptation to walk alongside her on the way home from church. Instead, he said just a few words about weather, bowed, and then left. Ruth didn't think she should see any more of him. Although she reproved herself for being so foolish, she felt like a shadow had fallen over her life.' Then there comes a Sunday when Mr. Bellingham walks home from church with her through the fields.
Later that evening she thought, 'How strange that the lovely afternoon walk seems somehow, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.' Other walks follow on the next Sundays.
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She tells him about all the miseries she endures at Mrs. Mason's. Mr. Bellingham asks to see her old home, Milham Grange, which is six miles away. The next fine Sunday, they both go. He watched her admiringly as she 'walked around luxuriant, overgrown shrubs in natural, graceful, wavy lines.' Everything goes well until Mrs. Mason, who also happens to be out enjoying the afternoon, sees her with a young man and kicks her out. Mr. Bellingham, who had stepped away for a few minutes, comes back to find Ruth crying. She tells him what just happened.
'Her eyes were so blinded by her tears that she didn't notice the change in his expression as he watched her. Even if she had seen it, she wouldn't have been able to interpret it. He was quiet for so long that, even through her tears, she wondered why he didn't say something. She would have liked to have heard his soothing words. Finally he said, 'It's too bad...' and then stopped. Then he began again. 'It's too bad because, I didn't want to mention it before, but I have some business and I need to go out of town tomorrow. To London, I mean. I don't know when I'll be able to come back.' Before, he had probably just intended to have a little fling with her, but that kind of fun is like playing on the edge of a cliff. Elizabeth Gaskell writes delicately about that moment of silence when Bellingham's lust turned to anger and disgust. This same kind of moment in the life of Arthur Donnithorne, who meant well, led to the ruin and tragedy of Hetty Sorrel. We don't know when the exact moment was that Steerforth's passion turned to disgust,
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but it's good for every young man and young woman to realize that such a moment could very well be in their future, when they'll have to fight that monster within each of us called Lust. Self-indulgence prepares the way, flirtation presents a pretty flowered side path, and before you know it, two lives are ruined. We won't stay safe by thinking that we're too refined or superior for such base temptations. The only way to deal with it is to have a strong, active life and to be able to say, like Paul, 'I keep my body under and bring it into subjection.' The flowered path of flirting can only lead to one end.
Bellingham brings Ruth to London, and then to North Wales. Jenny, the landlady at the hotel where they stay, says, 'It's obvious they aren't married.' Still, Ruth enjoyed the beauty of the mountains. Her admiration and contentment irritated Bellingham. Ruth sighed at her inability to amuse and satisfy the one she loved. The people at the hotel commented about the couple. 'She's absolutely beautiful,' said one man, 'but she can't be any older than sixteen. She looks very modest and innocent in that white dress.' His wife answered, 'Well, I think it's shameful that they let those kinds of people stay here.' And other people thought the same thing. Ruth's solitary walks began to be hampered by rude remarks and hostile looks. Then Mr. Bellingham gets sick with a high fever. His mother is sent for to take care of him. Poor Ruth has nobody else now but the meager kindness of the landlady. She endures days and nights of terrible anxiety. When Bellingham is better, he discusses Ruth with his mother. He
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has some regret, but mostly, he's sorry for himself. Without seeing Ruth, without even saying goodbye, he says to his mother, 'Can't we just leave tonight? I wouldn't be so annoyed by her presence if I were somewhere else. I dread facing her and having a scene, yet I feel like I owe her some kind of explanation.' This is how he treats her after ruining her life, and this is his only thanks for her loving devotion. Ruth was so young and naive that she probably didn't fully realize the implications that her mistake would have on her life. The story continues. Bellingham and his mother leave in high style. He never seeks to see Ruth or say goodbye. A badly deformed but kind man finds her afterwards, crouching in a lonely place. She says sadly, 'He left me--I can't believe it--he's gone and left me!' Before he could offer a word to comfort him, she burst into the wildest, most dejected crying imaginable. Hearing herself say the words and realizing the finality of it cut her heart. Her sobbing and moaning wrung the man's soul, but he knew she wouldn't hear anything he might say yet, even if he knew what to say. So he stood beside her calmly while she wailed and sobbed out her wretchedness. Finally, when she lay worn out and unable to cry any more, she heard him say quietly to himself, 'Oh, Lord, for Jesus' sake, have pity on her!' The good man and his sister nurse her through a perilous illness and finally take her and her baby home with them to Lancashire, where he's the minister of a small chapel. Ruth goes through the bitter waters of repentance. A life spent making up for sin and serving in humility add a Christian character to her natural beauty. Her transformation was probably
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easier because her sin wasn't caused by lust, but by loneliness, despair and oppression.
We know that David found forgiveness even for lust, but it seemed to leave an indelible mark in his character. And that's what happens to Mr. Bellingham. Years later, Ruth is doing a valuable service in a position of humility when she met him again. 'He was changed, but she didn't know why. The fact is, the ugly expression she had only seen when he was at his worst had become permanent. He looked restless and discontent. He thought that the lady was a lot like poor Ruth, but this woman was even more beautiful. Poor Ruth! And, for the first time in many years, he wondered what ever happened to her. Of course, there was only one thing that could have happened, and it was probably just as well that he didn't know because the knowledge would most likely had made him uncomfortable.' This is what Bellingham is like after all those years. Ruth, who was sinned against, was able to act with Christian dignity and grace. But we see Bellingham, who 'got off scot-free,' later as a middle-aged man. He's a person drifting aimlessly, without conscience or heart. He's in bondage to all-consuming lust.
We don't need to follow the story to its very end. It's a book worth reading--even more so if, while you read, you ask what the apostles ask, 'Lord, is it me?' Is this kind of misery or something worse, and this kind of degraded character, possible for me? Is there anything in me that's possible of bringing about such a shameful fall? You can be sure that there is.
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Sometimes we hear dark rumors about white men in the wilds of Africa who have broken free from the restraints of civilized society and commit acts of unbelievable cruelty. When we hear things like this, we should also ask ourselves, 'Lord, is it me?' Because it's a fact that, once we break free from the bonds of duty towards God and mankind, lust and hate run rampant within us and there's no sin we're not capable of.
But let's take courage. No final fall can overtake a person who keeps his soul protected from the first fall. This is the person who preserves his purity as if he's walling it within a tower of brass. He doesn't let any image of uncleanness in to pollute his imagination, he keeps his mind busy with worthwhile interests and healthy things to do, he keeps his body under subjection by making himself work, and he wisely exercises restraint and self-control in matters like eating, drinking, relaxing and sleeping.
A person like this who knows the dangers and pitfalls that are all around will pray faithfully every day, 'Our Father in heaven, don't lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil, Amen.' Having said that kind of a prayer, he doesn't think any more about it. Instead, he goes his way without fear, rejoicing in the life he has.
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Boticelli's painting of Fortitude and John Ruskin's interpretation of the painting are two things that the Conscience should memorize by heart. In this picture, Fortitude is not some giant figure, boldly standing strong, bristling with energy to withstand any enemy. Although she's tall and noble, yet she's sitting down, exhausted from some kind of effort that she's been at for a long time. She looks pensive, too, as if she's thinking, 'How much longer?' But even though she's resting, she's still wary and alert. She still hasn't loosened her grip on the unsheathed sword that's laying across her lap. She's in the thick of a battle and the end is nowhere in sight, but she doesn't have the advantage of being on the offensive. There's no denying that she's weary, yet she isn't sorry for herself or self-satisfied. She only has one thing on her mind. She's focused on the task that needs to be done, not on herself as the one doing the task. Or, rather, she's focused on the task that has to be endured--because Fortitude's existence is one of suffering.
The Bible doesn't specify Fortitude by name as one of the Christian virtues, but it does give the best examples of Fortitude in action. Jesus, who endured more than any of us can even put into words, said about Himself, 'I am meek and of lowly spirit.' Perhaps that quote gives a key to what Fortitude means. It's not so much
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a valiant virtue as a patient grace. Fortitude is distinguished more for what she patiently suffers than for what she does.
The apostle Paul gave us an image of the fullness of Christ by using the different aspects of Love. In the same way, Isaiah gave us an image of Fortitude by describing the humiliations and sufferings of Christ. Fortitude is like a delicate plant with no particular beauty or strength. It grows up within each of us. It endures sorrows and punishments, suffers without saying anything, doesn't strike back or speak deceitfully, is made sad, and yet--divides the reward with the strong. There's only one real kind of Fortitude known to men, and that's the Fortitude of Christ. Every time we're able to endure something cheerfully, without feeling sorry for ourselves or proud of our patience, it's from Christ's divine Fortitude working in us.
Moses was the meekest man who ever lived. His meekness was Fortitude. He endured the wayward people of Israel for forty years. When he thought that the people's offenses had surely exceeded God's patience, he prayed, 'Now, if you will, forgive their sin, If you won't, then I pray that you would blot me out of your Book of Life, too.'
After his own share of suffering, Paul wrote, 'often I had to travel, I was in danger in the sea, in danger from robbers, in danger from people from my own country, in danger from heathens, in danger in the city, in danger in remote areas, in danger at sea, in danger from false Christians, often tired and in pain, having to be on the alert on many occasions, hungry and thirsty, often with absolutely nothing to eat, cold and without enough clothing or protection from the elements.' Yet he was so concerned for his fellow Jews that he wished he might be a under a curse if it would help them.
Maybe Fortitude always has a tender side and always endures hardships because of love. Even a child bravely enduring a toothache cheerfully might be motivated out of love--he doesn't want to upset his mother.
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In the Middle Ages, the tradition of having Fortitude took on the form of chivalry, which might be considered a school whose teachers were the various distresses that knights had to endure. Knights showed more Fortitude than the monks and nuns who practiced discipline and self-mortification in their monasteries. Roland, Oliver and all of the 'Champions of Christendom' suffered as many hardships as the apostles. Paul told Timothy to 'endure hardship.' As part of their training, knights were expected to endure hardship without wincing and without resentment. In Sir Walter Scott's book The Talisman, Sir Kenneth shows us a kind of knightly Fortitude that's possible even for us.
'May I see your sick squire, sir?' Sir Kenneth, the Scottish knight, hesitated and turned red. But at last he answered, 'Yes, of course, Lord of Gilsland. But don't be surprised when you see him--remember that nobles and knights in Scotland don't eat as well or sleep in beds as soft or nurse their patients in buildings as magnificent as what our southern neighbors are accustomed to. The place I'm staying in is not very fancy, Lord Gilsland,' and he added a haughty emphasis on the word. Somewhat unwillingly, he led the way to the place he was staying temporarily. Sir Kenneth looked around sadly, but hid his feelings and went into the hut, motioning for the Baron of Gilsland to follow him in. Most of he space inside the hut was taken up with two beds. One bed was empty. It was made of leaves and covered with an antelope skin. The armor laying beside it and a silver crucifix carefully and reverently placed at the head of the bed clearly indicated that this was the bed of Sir Kenneth himself.
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The sick man was in the other bed. He was older than middle-aged, strongly built, and had harsh features. His bed was softer than his master's. He was wearing more courtly clothing and the soft loose robe that knights usually wear. These and other spare articles of clothing had obviously been used by Sir Kenneth to make his servant more comfortable.'
This is an example of Fortitude under very difficult circumstance. Even under desperate poverty, pity and tenderness for dependents brought out the knight's personal dignity and courage. Any man who shows this kind of fortitude is truly heroic. Even the strange hermit-monk of Lebanon whose body was scarred with wounds from trying to repent of his sins, isn't as good an example of Christian fortitude as the knight.
We appreciate noble lessons that we can apply to everyday situations. We understand that Mrs. Garth also showed an act of Fortitude during an undeserved and troubling situation.
Mrs. Garth (from George Eliot's Middlemarch) is making pies, supervising the baking and washing, and teaching her youngest boy and girl Lindley Murray's grammar, all at the same time. Fred Vincy shows up to see her husband. Then Caleb himself [her husband] comes in.
'Mr. Garth, I have something to say that I'm afraid will give you a bad opinion of me. I need to tell you and Mrs. Garth that I can't keep my promise. I can't find the money to pay the bill after
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all. I've had some bad luck. All I have of the hundred and sixty pounds I owe is these fifty pounds.'
Mrs. Garth was too astonished to say a word. She looked at her husband for an explanation. Caleb blushed. After a little pause he said,
'Oh, I forgot to tell you, Susan--I co-signed a bill for Fred. It was for a hundred and sixty pounds. He made sure he'd be able to pay it off himself first.'
There was an obvious change in Mrs. Garth's expression, but it was like a change below the surface of water that remains smooth on the surface. She looked directly at Fred and said,
'I suppose you've already asked your father for the rest of the money and he refused you?'
'No,' said Fred, biting his lip and speaking with more difficulty. 'I already know it'll be useless to ask him. Unless it would be of use, I'd rather not mention Mr. Garth's name in the matter.'
'This couldn't have happened at a worse time,' said Caleb in his hesitating way, looking down at the money and nervously fingering the bill. 'Christmas is coming and I'm rather hard up right now. As it is, things are so tight that I'm like a tailor who has to cut everything out just a little too small to have enough cloth. What can we do, Susan? I'm going to need every penny we have in the bank. It's a hundred and ten pounds, gone just like that!'
'I'll need to give you the ninety-two pounds I had saved for Alfred's apprenticeship,' said Mrs. Garth solemnly and decisively, although a sensitive ear might have noticed a slight shaking in her words as she spoke.
'And I'm sure Mary has saved twenty pounds from her salary by now. She'll loan us that.'
Mrs. Garth hadn't looked at Fred again and was
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not calculating at all what words she could use to hurt him most deeply. She was an unusual woman, and was busy considering what would need to be done. She knew the solution wouldn't be accomplished any more effectively by venting bitter remarks or cutting rebukes. But she had made Fred feel something like remorse for the first time in his life all the same.
'I promise I'll pay it--somehow, eventually,' he stammered out.
'Yes, eventually,' said Mrs. Garth. She disliked fine words in distressing situations and she couldn't resist adding, 'But boys can't be apprenticed eventually, they should be apprenticed at fifteen.' She had never been less inclined to make excuses for Fred. Fred turned and left.
'I was such a fool, Susan.'
'Yes you were,' said his wife, nodding and smiling. But I wouldn't have let the world know it, why didn't you tell me about this earlier? You do the same thing with your buttons. You let them burst off without telling me, and then you go around with your sleeves unbuttoned.'
In Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot, the story of Mrs. Amos Barton's life and death in the poor parsonage house is a record of gentle and dignified fortitude.
We think of Mark Tapley from Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit with a sense of relief. He found 'no credit in being jolly' when things were going well. But no knight-errantry can exceed the cheerful, serviceable Fortitude he showed in the jolly way that he made the best of things in 'Eden.' The enemies he struggled against
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were unromantic things--fever, famine, discontent, and helplessness in every member of that poor colony. And what a gritty and unpretentious struggle that was! Mark Tapley deserves an honored place among our closest friends, although he might not think there was any credit for being so jolly in such a pleasant position!
We don't need to go all the way to his colony of 'Eden' to find Fortitude. In Bleak House, a birthday dinner cooked (!) by her loving family gave Mrs. Bagnet the occasion for a lot of cheerful serenity.
What a contrast she is to Our Mutual Friend's Mrs. Wilfur, who lets the whole world know she's enduring a trial by tying a black ribbon around her face. How many of us do the same thing in a symbolic way, wearing the black ribbon of a sullen mood and mournful face! Instead of gradually coming down, we've jumped from the highest examples of noble Fortitude to common, even absurd examples. But they fit our purpose. It might not be a bad idea to keep a notebook for recording people and incidents that give inspiration to conscience in the area of Fortitude.
We don't have enough time to talk about Nansen, Gordon, Howard, Livingstone, Collingwood, Raleigh, Galileo, Florence Nightingale, Calpurnia, Mackay of Uganda, or Grace Darling. The list of people whose Fortitude distinguished them is actually our list of heroes. If we start a book of examples of Fortitude, it will become a book of heroes, both of great and small things. You might object that Fortitude is a matter of the heart and mind, not the physical body. But if the body isn't kept in
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its proper place and trained to endure without complaining, then Fortitude doesn't stand a chance. It's within the body that we must endure trials, and training is done through cheerfully enduring small trials that are too minor to list.
The Song of the Lotos-Eaters has a message for all of us:
That's why we need Fortitude. Without it, no person has ever brought life to any purpose. 'I fight, not like someone just pounding his fists into the air, but I keep my body under control and bring it into subjection.'
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'I am wisdom. I live with prudence and discover knowledge of witty inventions.' That saying is worth reflecting on in this age when Prudence is no longer fashionable. Young people confuse impulsiveness with heart, so they look down on Prudence. Yet, of all the deceitful and harmful forms of selfishness, Imprudence is probably the most destructive. Prudence is one of the counselors who teaches Conscience about the dealings of the House of the Body, because Prudence is mostly manifested in connection with physical matters, and physical matters all affect the body either directly or indirectly.
We know how a virtuous woman is described. Virtuous is another word for prudent. A prudent woman is the one who seeks wool and flax and works diligently with her hands. She brings food from far away. She's the one who gets up early in the morning and feeds her family breakfast. She checks out a plot of land and makes an offer on it. She's careful to keep up her health and her strength. She goes
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out of her way to help the poor, but is still able to enhance her own family and maintain a reputation of peace and respect in the community.
Joseph was prudent. He considered the future and made plans for the benefit of Egypt, his new home, and for the success of Pharaoh, his boss. England's King Alfred was very prudent. Every great commander wins his battles through Prudence as much as through bravery.
There was one incident where Alcibiades (from Plutarch's Lives) showed prudence. 'He had always been surrounded with pleasures, and many would-be friends made it a point to say only what they thought he wanted to hear. They would never criticize or correct him. But Alcibiades had natural insight and recognized the value of Socrates. He rejected the rich and popular people who clamored for his attention and attached himself to Socrates. He soon became close friends with Socrates. He discovered that Socrates didn't want special favors from him like everyone else did. It was more important to him to analyze and correct Alcibiades's faulty attitudes and to cure his worthless, foolish arrogance.
He considered the discipline of Socrates as a gift from heaven to preserve and benefit the youths of the culture. Knowing his own faults, he admired his friend, respected his virtue and loved his wisdom. Without even realizing it, he copied the love he saw in his own heart, allowing himself to submit under the influence of the power that, as Plato said, attracts devotion because of its own deep love.'
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This is a great example of Prudence in the selection of friends and mentors. If only Alcibiades had been as reliable as he was prudent.
Alexander (Plutarch's Lives), in his heroic days, showed admirable Prudence. He could tell the difference between things he came across. 'He gave his mother lots of expensive gifts, but he wouldn't let her intelligent mind meddle in affairs of government, or have any control over the business of state. She complained that this was a hardship for her to deal with. He endured her annoyance patiently. Antipater once wrote him a long letter full of serious criticisms against his mother. Alexander read the letter and then remarked, 'Antipater doesn't understand that one tear of a mother can blot out a thousand of these kinds of complaints.' He wouldn't allow his mother to interfere with his duties as ruler, yet his love for her was very great.
And Jesus, who was even greater than Alexander, said, 'Don't you know that I must be busy with my Father's business?' It's Prudence's special duty to make sure that no undue influence is allowed even from those who are nearest and dearest to us. It's our duty to think for ourselves and to consider what's best for everyone. We can't allow ourselves to be swayed by the private interests of anybody. Any government whose officers can be persuaded to make any decisions for the private good of themselves or their own interests is corrupt at its core.
Prudence chooses what's simple, and never prefers luxury. It thinks that work is more honorable than pleasure, and trains the body to handle severe treatment. In all of these things,
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Alexander was a good example of gentle, heroic Prudence.
'He discovered that his officers had no limits in their extravagance. They enjoyed luxurious dining and all kinds of other indulgences. Agnon of Teos even used silver nails in his shoes, Leonatus had camel-loads of dirt delivered all the way from Egypt to rub himself with before he went into the wrestling ring, Philotas bought netting that would enclose an area twelve miles wide when he went hunting, and others had expensive essences to use after bathing instead of plain oil, and special servants to prepare their baths and make their beds. Alexander rebuked these decadent practices like a true philosopher. 'He said that it seemed odd to him that, after experiencing so many glorious battles, they forgot that sleep was more restful after honest work and exercise than after lazy pampering. After they'd seen the way the Persians lived, he was surprised that it wasn't obvious to them that nothing was more shameful than the love of pleasure, and nothing was more noble than a life of honest work. How can a man take care of his own horse or put on his own sword and helmet if his hands are too delicate to dress and bathe his own pampered body? The end of victory isn't to succumb to living like those who were conquered, but to live better than they did.' (from Plutarch's Life of Alexander.)
The laws of Lycurgus (Plutarch's Lives) resulted from noble and generous prudence. If Sparta was going to succeed in its long conflict with Athens, it would have to do it through
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the fitness of each of its citizens. Lycurgus understood that each individual possessed in himself the most valuable thing in Sparta--a body prepared for work and endurance, and a mind that could recognize the seriousness of a situation.
'He wanted to cure them of their quest for luxury and desire for riches. So he introduced a third plan that was wise and brilliantly designed. He set up community dining halls where everyone would eat the same food, and the government would decide what was served. The people were forbidden to eat at home at fancy tables and couches with gourmet meals prepared by private butchers and cooks. No longer cold they stuff themselves like pigs in private. Such gluttony corrupted their table manners and made them fat and unhealthy. It encouraged all kinds of sensuous habits, including sleeping in and lounging in warm baths, as pampered as invalids. He made another law to discourage magnificence and expensive living. He decreed that ceilings in the houses couldn't be made with any tool except an axe, and doors couldn't be made with anything beyond a saw. Because, as Epaminondas said later, you can't hide treason under that kind of meal. And Lycurgus knew that a house with an axe-hewn ceiling and sawn door is no place for fine splendor and fancy furniture. It would be absurd to have a humble, plain house and fill it with silver bedposts, purple quilts, golden cups and other fine luxuries. A plain and simple house would motivate a person to buy a suitable bed with sensible bedding and dishes to match.
There are things about a Spartan lifestyle that aren't appropriate for a Christian life,
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but wise people feel strongly these days that it's in the best interest of society to live simple lives, to avoid excesses even in the athletic or intellectual realm, and to avoid having any more possessions than are needed to live a simple, sensible life. There's nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to live with furniture and tools that are beautiful as well as practical, but we shouldn't let ourselves accumulate unnecessary stuff that clutters our lives and requires our time to maintain, especially if the things are valuable merely because of how much they cost. These kinds of things get in the way of what's really valuable: a body that does what we need, and a mind that's alert. We need a fit body and mind to do our duty to our community and meet our family responsibilities.
'When the money was brought to Athens, Phocion (Plutarch's Lives) asked those who brought it why he should be singled out to receive such a gift. They said it was because Alexander considered him the only honest and good man in Athens. 'Then let me retain that character and really be that kind of man,' said Phocion. Phocion brought the men to his home and they saw how frugal a life he led. His wife baked bread, he drew water himself and washed his own feet. That made them urge him even more to take the money. They said it wasn't fit for the friend of such a fine prince as Alexander to live in such a wretched manner. Just then, a poor old man happened to walk by in rags. Phocion asked whether the men thought less of him than
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they did the old man. They begged him not to make such a comparison, but Phocion responded, 'That old man lives on less than I do, yet he is happy. If you give me the money and I don't use it, it's wasted. But if I use it to live a life of luxury, the people of Athens will resent both me and Alexander, your king.' So they took the money back with them. The incident was a good lesson for the Greeks. A man who doesn't care to receive a gift of money is richer than the one who can afford to offer such a gift.'
When it comes to Prudence, Jesus is our best example. The Bible says, 'My servant will deal prudently,' and we'll learn a lot by studying the gospels to see how He dealt prudently with the only thing He owned--His life. That's really the only thing of real value that any of us truly has. If we think of Christ as our example, we'll live sensibly and not lose our common sense to any kind of excesses.
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Everyone knows that what he does with his body and heart should be directed by his Conscience. How we act to others, what we feel about them, controlling our own bodies are all things that we agree should be subject to the Conscience. But we tend to think that our thoughts are our own, and that the domain of the Intellect is an area where every man is his own master--as if the opinions we form, the mental tasks we choose to undertake or leave undone are beyond the realm of duty. Without even realizing it, we think that thought is an area where we're free.
Of all the mistakes that have tripped up people and entire societies, this one is probably the most unfortunate. A person might pick up some notion, call it his opinion, and spread it here and there until that foolish notion becomes a threat to society, and people are in bondage to it. We're always hearing statements that remind us of the cry heard among the Jews: 'Here are your gods, O Israel!' The Israelites might not have even known which tent the shout came from, but it spread like lightning over the whole Israelite camp until every man brought his valuables
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to help make a golden calf. Why did that happen? Moses, their leader, was gone. True, he was with God, but he was gone, and his people wasted no time creating a shrine and worshiping it. This is typical of how an opinion can very quickly carry away a country or a person--the leader is out of sight, and boisterous opinions fill people's ears.
During summer vacation, when people don't have much to think about, newspapers print all kinds of idle questions like, 'Is life worth living?' or 'Is the institution of marriage a failure?' Of course, the indirect message is that life isn't worth it, and marriage is a failure. Sensible people don't take these articles seriously. But there are lots of people who just wait around for any chance notion that comes their way, and they can't wait to spread it.
When people like this hear the notion that the institution of marriage is a failure, the idea spreads and leads to a proliferation of immorality. The idea itself has become a kind of golden calf, and the leader, Conscience, is either gone or else silenced. And the result is that people think it's a wonderful thing to make sacrifices for their exciting new idea of the moment. Or they might wonder aloud and go around asking whether life is really worth living. Although it might seem more innocent because it's just a question, it's just as serious. There's no law on the books that a person can go to jail for being sullen and ungrateful for sunshine and rain and food and clothing and natural beauty and kind friends. Yet it's an ugly kind of sin that's as contagious as the plague of Black Death. The person who allows his mind to dwell on the question, 'Is life worth living?' has already been infected.
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We've all heard stories about how killing isn't always murder--how men who seem well-intentioned entertain the notion that killing is sometimes justified and therefore not really murder. They're persuaded by their own reason that the only way to secure the safety of the masses is to get rid of the leader hindering their liberty. And they become convinced that they've been specially called for the task of delivering their people. So they kill the offender and, instead of being hailed as a hero, they're hated by all thinking people and called an assassin. How did this happen?
It happens like this: The conscience, which is supposed to cry out, 'You must not murder!' has been silenced. Opinion played the role of director, Reason supported him, and then the wicked murder became reality. Even the slightest hint of opinion is enough to waylay an open (empty) mind. We see it in the news every day. Just the other day a local newspaper featured an article about 'The Unreality of Sin.' An empty mind hungers for any kind of deposit, so it's easy to see how that kind of headline would be accepted into many people's minds and then used as an excuse to sin.
When I was a girl, darning stockings was considered a valuable use of time, and I was shocked to hear a respectable Welsh lady say that she didn't believe in darning stockings! I found out later that 'darning' could also mean running them; she thought I was ruining new stockings by putting holes in the heels. But at first I thought she had hit on some novel principle that would free me from the task of mending holes in stockings. That's how it is with so many people--some casual remark is heard and latched onto, often about a more serious issue than stockings. There's always some stimulating new fallacy being talked about that attracts thousands of people.
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Being caught up with every new opinion is a risk for anyone who isn't aware of the danger and doesn't know how to protect himself. I think that these are the most important rules for doing the right thing: a) we shouldn't entertain just any notion that comes our way, b) we shouldn't rely on our Reason to be an infallible guide to opinions since Reason sometimes argues in favor of what we feel like doing instead of what the right thing to do is, c) we need to work hard to find out as much as we can so that our opinions are based on knowledge, and, d) we should strive to get good principles that can help us test our opinions.
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An untaught Conscience can have all kinds of inconsistencies. By focusing on the wrong thing, it's continually 'straining out the gnats and swallowing a camel.' Even the most hardened criminal has a Conscience that he justifies with misleading reasons and excuses. He might claim that 'society is against him, and he never got a fair chance.' Or, 'why should I go around hungry and in rags while some other guy rides in a fancy car and has lots to eat?' Or, 'that man has more than he needs, it's his responsibility to keep it safe if he wants it. If someone else is clever enough to trick him out of some of it, it's only fair.' This is the way that Reason and Inclination support each other in people whose minds are like Ishmael, whose hand was against everyone. In fact, the criminal reasons that, since every man's hand is against him, he has a right to get what he can to make up for it.
There are some things that slick Reason never compromises in matters of conscience. He must be loyal to his buddies. Turning in a buddy who did something wrong seems to him to be even worse than murder. Reason also makes sure that he's fair in his dealings with his buddies and will share as much as he said he would. People are almost always faithful with their beloved cherished child, or a friend they
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sincerely care about. Every person's conscience makes demands in some area. Every person, no matter how civilized or savage, has some issues where he acts on conscience. The first thing most missionaries will do is to find out on what issues the people always act on principled of conscience. David Livingstone was able to live peaceably among the most barbaric tribes in Africa because he had enough sympathy and knowledge to find an area of trust with them. He was always able to find areas where their conscience was inflexible, such as loyalty to a guest or gratitude to someone who was kind to them. Livingstone made some valuable discoveries about human nature. There are certain virtuous qualities that are apparent even in the most barbaric tribes; imagine how much of those same qualities there are in people who have been raised in societies that value kindness. He discovered that even these uneducated savages knew that they must not murder or steal. They knew that they needed to obey their parents and be kind to each other, and other things. In other words, they had the light of Conscience. And we've heard from Captain Cook that the Otaheitans wept the first time they saw a white man being flogged. Even though they were savages, they knew that cruelty was wrong.
Yet, an uneducated conscience is at the mercy of every whim that tries to persuade his conscience, and his Reason will supplement that with a thousand logical excuses. This is true of savages, criminals, tough schoolboys, rough country farmers, and ignorant undisciplined people in every class of society--even those whose ignorance comes with a college degree. Only educated consciences are stable and consistent.
We all know someone who's predictable, we always know how he'll act in a given situation and we can always depend on him. That's because he's not likely to be swayed by the latest outside opinions.
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He knows enough to have developed a standard to judge opinions with, and principles to test how moral those opinions are. He knows that flashy new opinions have been tried in the past and didn't hold up, so he won't fall for them. He examines each new idea with his principles, which act like a light. And he discovers when a new idea is based on faulty logic that leads to more faulty thinking and wrong actions. As a result, he doesn't give it any place in his mind.
The rest of the people who haven't thought through their principles are like fertile ground for every new idea. When some crazy notion grabs the attention of a few people, it becomes a mania. Sir Walter Scott had some legal habits of mind; maybe that was why he wrote Peveril of the Peak, an example from history of a nation that went crazy over a new notion. One good example of the power of a notion over a nation, and how a baseless idea can spread like wildfire can be so valuable for teaching the conscience, so I'm going to quote part of a note about the Popish Plot from the back of Peveril of the Peak. 'The villainous character of the people who created and carried out the pretended Popish Plot can be estimated by this account. It's from Roger North's Examen, and North describes Oates very vividly. He says, 'he was now fully three times exalted. His Plot was in full force and he walked around with his bodyguards (for fear that the Catholics would murder him). He lived in a room at Whitehall Palace and had a yearly pension of $2100. He forced the House of Lords to provide those things by threatening that, if they didn't give it to him, he would
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take it himself. He put on an Episcopalian robe without the thin linen sleeves, silk gown and garment, big hat, satin hatband and rose and the long scarf. He blasphemously used the title of Savior of the Nation. Any person he merely pointed at was arrested and thrown in prison. When people saw him coming, they fled from him as if he was a huge explosion. His very presence was like a plague. Even those who didn't end up in prison or executed had their reputations ruined just by being seen with him. Even the queen herself was accused at the Commons' bar. The city was so afraid of Catholics that they put up posts and chains. Sir Thomas Player, the Chamberlain in the Court of Alderman, said that they did that because they were afraid of being murdered while they slept. When people said anything, none of their conversations was ordinary--every debate and action was grandiose and confused. All freedom of speech was taken away. To doubt the Plot was considered worse than being an Arab, or a Jew or an infidel.'
This theme seems to have fascinated Sir Walter Scott. It's the key to more than one historical character in his books. In Old Mortality, Balfour of Burley is a bigot. A murderous idea possesses and impels him. Yet when that idea finally drives him to an ungodly cruel crime, even his own uninstructed conscience can't accept the 'logical' conclusion that his Reason presents, and causes him great mental anguish. This example of the danger of a compelling idea is even more educational than Shakespeare's Brutus because Scott
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takes great care to demonstrate how a dark mind naturally leads to prejudice, gullibility, intolerance, superstition, ambition for the wrong reasons, even murder. This is even more so when this ignorance is joined by mental intelligence and the mind has been struck by a tempting idea. Scott illustrates very vividly what happens when the conscience tests a new idea too late.
Sir Walter Scott also shows us the danger of oblivious ignorance, which can make even the purest teaching be twisted and used for evil purposes. In Woodstock, the Independent, Sergeant Tomkins, who calls himself Honest Joe or Trusty Tomkins, believed that he was saved and was therefore incapable of sin. To him, that meant that anything that might be foul sin in others was okay for him to do.
Although we in our modern era take pride in being enlightened and progressive, we seem to be less aware of how gross and dull and foul ignorance is than thinkers of the Middle Ages were. We don't seem to understand that a conscience that hasn't been educated is at the mercy of a dark, unenlightened mind. Academically intelligent people have been known to say foolish things like, 'I don't see any use in sending missionaries out,' or 'Every country and tribe has the religion that's best suited for their particular situation.' How can anything but evil come from unenlightened places where passion, prejudice and superstition conceal the natural light of the conscience?
It's alarming how much ignorance there is right in our own homes, schools and universities. Ignorance is to blame for the seventy thousand Americans that Emerson says are, 'going around looking for a religion.' Even the very 'tolerance' that
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we're so proud of comes from ignorance that makes us unable to recognize the difference between various things. We may not be as far gone as that country that supplies us with so many new notions and novel religions [does she mean America?], but the fact that we're so ready and willing to accept whatever new ideas come our way shows that we're guilty of having uneducated consciences.
When it comes to politics, we put all our trust on whatever our newspaper says--even though it only prints the biased information of our own political party! We don't make the effort to supplement with information from the other newspaper, or by broadening our minds with literature or history. We get all of our political education from lectures and summaries, but they can't possibly take the time to provide as much detail as what comes from our own conscientious effort to gather information.
Like the young man that Mrs. Piozzi wrote about in her Anecdotes of Johnson, we make the mistake of being over-scrupulous in one area but too careless in another.
Johnson said, 'For the last five weeks, someone had been coming to my door saying that he wanted to see me, but he wouldn't leave his name or say what he wanted to see me about. Finally we met. He said that he was troubled by a matter of ethics. I asked him why he hadn't gone directly to his parish priest or local clergyman, as our church rules ordain. He paid me a few compliments and then told me that he worked as a clerk for a well-known merchant who had warehouses that had lots of packing materials to get things ready for shipping. He said that he was often tempted to take wrapping paper and strapping tape for his own uses, and had often, in fact, done so. He couldn't even remember the last time he had paid for packing materials himself. I said, 'But it's probably insignificant to your boss. Just ask for his permission and then go ahead and use the materials with a clear conscience.' He answered, 'But my boss already said I could use as much as I wanted. In fact, he was annoyed when I bothered him to discuss it.' I was just about to say, 'Then don't waste my time about such a trivial thing if it's already settled,' and was almost
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angry about it, when it occurred to me that the guy might be mentally unstable. So I asked him, 'What time do you go home from your job?' 'About seven o'clock, sir.' 'And when do you go to bed?' 'At midnight.' 'Then I've learned from our new acquaintance that five unemployed hours in a day are enough for a person to drive himself crazy. I would advise you to study algebra if you don't already know it. Your head would get less muddy and you'd stop tormenting your fellow man about wrapping paper and strapping tape when the world is already bursting with sin and heartache.'
Undue obsession with trivial matters is a sure sign of an uneducated conscience. Maybe the man shouldn't have taken his boss's packing materials, but wasting his own time and the time of others about such a small matter was an even worse offense. This illustrates that only an educated conscience is able to view things in their proper perspective and to distinguish what really matters from what's of no consequence. That's why a child will make such huge mistakes in his value judgments. He'll lie, be unkind, commit cruelty, and not even realize he's done anything wrong. Yet a trivial little act, like opening a forbidden drawer, will trouble his conscience for months. Schoolchildren make similar mistakes. They don't feel guilty about deceiving their teacher, but they'll believe that it's unpardonable to turn in a schoolmate.
There's so much more that could be said about an uneducated conscience, the subject is so broad and encompasses so much of life. But I can only suggest a hint here, or offer an example there. One point I want to make very clear, though. Every person is born with a conscience. But its light is only steady and dependable in proportion to how well-informed it is through increasing its intelligence. Also, an uneducated
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conscience leaves a person open to bigotry, fanaticism, panic, envy, and spite. Such a person's Reason will justify every offense because he has very little knowledge of people and events to measure his judgments against. Note that I'm not talking about deliberate sin. Even an educated conscience is tempted to willfully sin! We'll talk more about that later. For now, let's make it clear that more than half of the mistakes and offenses committed in the world are done out of ignorance. People think and do the wrong thing because they don't bother to educate their conscience.
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I won't say that a person with an educated conscience is incapable of doing something morally wrong. That's not true. But such a person has the advantage of rarely being able to do or think wrong without being aware of his error. The reliability that his enlightened conscience gives him sets him apart. Emerson said that it's interesting that many people have a reputation, or a kind of force in the world, that seems even greater than what they actually did or wrote. We're fascinated by economic historian Arnold Toynbee who worked for social housing, author John Sterling, Arthur Hallam, Tennyson's poet friend, and other young men whose short lives didn't extend far past their college graduation. [US equivalents might be poet John Gillespie Magee, Bobby Kennedy, Todd Beamer]. Emerson says that this kind of legendary esteem that doesn't seem warranted by accomplishments is--character. He may very well be correct, but maybe the specific aspect of character we value so much in these men is the sound moral judgment they had which comes from having an educated conscience. Goldsmith gives us a charming example of this kind of person in The Vicar of Wakefield's Dr. Primrose. His decisions are so wise, his resolutions are fair, even his correction is gentle yet effective. How can we forget that epitaph that his wife was supposed to live up to [he had made a plaque praising her 'prudence, economy, and obedience till death' and hung it in a prominent place for her to see every day!] or the
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way he let his family have their portrait done--even though the painting was too big to fit in any of the rooms in the house! That was a reproof of vanity that they never forgot! He is humble when he's doing well, and composed in times of hardship. And this is because of reading and prayer. He didn't get to be this way through his books alone, or through prayer alone, it was both of them working together.
Boswell shows that Dr. Johnson was the same way. We're used to having dictionaries, so we aren't overly impressed with his skill as a great lexicographer. Actually, when you think about it, Johnson's achievements in both actions and writing were surprisingly small, considering his talent. His writing style wasn't even as appealing to us as his biographer's. Yet few men had as well-educated a conscience for making fair and just judgments. That's why his biography is such worthwhile reading. To have Boswell constantly asking, 'Sir?' must have been annoying, so it's no surprise that he sometimes pretended that the worse side was better. But his judgments were so just and righteous! No wonder his contemporaries waited to hear his thoughts on matters. We can all sound idealistic and discuss the morality of others, but he was able to share what he called 'luminous' thoughts about all kinds of things and all kinds of famous historical people. Only a person with an educated conscience can do that. Probably everyone who makes a mark on history that seems to transcend their accomplishments has had an influence on the world based on their moral judgment rather than their genius.
Being able to form moral judgments and living
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a virtuous life aren't the same thing. But it's necessary for people who live in a very narrow sphere to have both. Simple people may have proper thoughts about daily work and routine duties because their conscience has been educated by traditional wisdom that they got at home without even realizing it. But if we want to live in the immense, wide world and experience a broader realm of thought and deeds, then we need to make it a priority to slowly, gradually, little by little, learn how to form fair opinions.
How do we do this? First of all, we need to be observant and think for ourselves. We don't want to have cute, clever things to say about what other people are doing, discovering a low motive here, or a shrewd practice there. People who let themselves get into such habits lose their ability to interpret life with an educated conscience. But if we're observant and keep our thinking gentle, broad-minded and humble, then we'll find lots of learning opportunities to improve ourselves in our daily family life. We'll find some good in the things done by politicians here and overseas, and we'll recognize wisdom in the attitudes of other nations.
But not many of us are able to observe and experience people and events around the world. Most of us will have to rely on books to educate ourselves. The way to educate our conscience is to read, notice, learn and assimilate. We need to read novels, history, poetry, everything that's classified as literature. And we need to read with a purpose of improving ourselves rather than reading for cultural literacy. Some people have developed a distaste for the word 'culture.' The concept of a 'cultured' person is very narrow because it has 'self' as its goal. But there's a better reason to become profoundly intimate with an extensive amount of literature than self-culture. In literature we'll find wise men's reflections about the art of living. Sometimes it's written in history, sometimes poetry, essay or story. This is what we all need to master--the art of living.
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Poetry is probably the most penetrating, searching and intimate of all our teachers. It's 'interesting' to know about a certain poet and his works, in the same way that it's interesting to know about carved metal repousse design. But in order to get any joy or productivity out of repousse, we need to learn what the tools are and how to use them. Poetry has tools that help us shape and model our lives. We need to figure out how to use them ourselves. If one particular line of a poem strikes us as we read it, and repeats itself in our mind so that we quote it out loud during the day and murmur it at odd moments--then this is the line that speaks directly to us to influence our daily living, even if it only talks about,
This two-line couplet doesn't seem to have any meaty substance, yet it can instruct our conscience better than many wise proverbs. As we internally 'chew' on this, a reverence comes to us that we aren't even aware of. We gain a gentleness, a sense of wistful tenderness about the past, a feeling of continuity in history, and a sense that our own part in the march of history won't be out of step and obvious, but a harmonious part of the whole. This is the kind of lesson that can't be taught in school.
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It has to dawn on each of us as we discover it for ourselves.
Many people have a poet who's their favorite for a year or two, then they have another favorite, and then another. Others find that one poet is their favorite for a lifetime--perhaps Spenser or Wordsworth or Browning. But, whether we have a favorite for a year or for a lifetime, we need to observe as we read, and learn and internally digest. Digest is a good word to describe the process. Whatever we digest is assimilated and is taken into ourselves. It becomes a part of us that's inseparable from who we are.
The first time we read Shakespeare, we probably read it for the story. Then we read it again to get another look at his characters. He's created a crowd of charming people, and he makes us feel so intimate with them that, afterwards, whether we meet someone in a book or in real life, we think, 'She's a lot like Jessica,' or, 'What a sweet girl, she reminds me of Miranda,' or, 'She treats her father like Cordelia,' or a certain historical figure might seem to be 'vulgar, like lago.' To be this familiar with Shakespeare is very enriching to the mind and instructive for the conscience. Then, little by little, as we continue reading, Shakespeare's beautiful, perceptive lines will begin to take possession of us. They'll mold the way we judge men and things and the great issues of life without us even realizing it.
Novels can also be like sermons to wise people, but not if we only read them for the plot. It's a degrading waste of time to read a novel that can be skimmed, or to peek at the last page to see how it ends. We need to read to learn the meaning of life. By the time we finish a book, we should know who said what, and what the circumstances were. The characters we get to know in books become our mentors, or, in some cases, our warning. But, either way, they're still teaching us--unless our mind is like a colander, and everything slips through like water that goes through the holes and own the drain.
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Of course, it would be ridiculous to waste time investing this kind of careful reading on a book that isn't written with literary skill or has no moral value. We should limit ourselves to the best--we should only read novels that are worth reading again and again, enjoying each time more than the last. It's easy to see the shallow way people read when you realize that ninety-nine out of a hundred people who read Thackeray's Vanity Fair come away thinking that Amelia is an ideal woman. Very few people get the real moral of the story--that a man can't give more to a woman than she's worth. Even Dobbin, who was so faithful, finally found his life, not in Amelia, but in his books and his daughter. It's wise to choose the authors we read with the same care and discernment we use to choose our friends. And, once we've decided that an author has something to say that we need to hear, we should listen respectfully.
Essays are enjoyable to read, but I won't go into them much here. Like poets, we have to find our favorites on our own. They have a special intimacy with their readers, and every phrase that seems so casual should be carefully considered. There may be more to it than meets the eye. The best essayists write because they have something personal to say to you and me, because their minds have some fruit of the thoughts of their lives that they want us to taste. So let's read to be enlightened.
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History and biographies of historical people approach us in another way. Currently, we're experiencing a passion for patriotism and a bond of citizenship. That could be because we've all caught the enthusiasm of imperialism, or maybe we're reacting against the last generation's individualism. We should be thankful for these two forces that result in national pride, but their strength might make us rush heedlessly into presumptuous sins if we don't recognize where our position fits regarding our country and city, and if we don't make an effort to educate our conscience.
We should read newspapers, of course--newspapers from both sides. But a person who bases everything he knows on newspapers is an ignorant patriot and a narrow-minded citizen. His opinions are merely rehashed repetitions of other men's words--like a parrot. A person should mull over the history of his own country with responsible interest. He should be distressed when his country does something dishonorable, and proud when his country does something great. He should ponder the history of some other great empires, admire the balanced justice that governed
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its remote colonies, and reflectively examine the reasons for its fall. Then he will gradually come to have some understanding of what the life of a nation is. He'll be able to express an opinion that doesn't merely parrot someone else. He'll develop his own convictions, and they will be helpful to his country, even if the only people he shares them with are the ones around his dinner table.
He'll learn to value Xerxes as a gardener whose goal was for every man to have hi own little paradise. Lycurgus will be more to him than a lawgiver; he'll recognize that Lycurgus was a hero for being able to keep the laws he made. This kind of person is interested and a little envious of the those small yet great republics that were skilled at war and peace and had schools where every man learned philosophy. The best men of those societies made philosophy the absorbing study of their entire lives.
A person who reads history this way cares about more than cramming to pass a test, or becoming cultured, or even being entertained, although this kind of reading is undoubtedly enjoyable. He knows that he owes it to his country to have some intelligent knowledge about the past, not just of his own country, but of other cultures, too. This kind of person is a valuable asset to his country. It's a great thing to develop a fair, broad-minded, enlightened patriot for the service of one's nation, even if that patriot is only oneself.
Philosophy is as important to us as it was for the young men of Athens. What makes us remarkable among civilized people is our ignorance of the things people have thought about in the world before us. We tend to think of the thoughts of previous civilizations as worthless or routine common knowledge. Yet philosophers have spent five thousand years seeking a single unifying principle that explains both physical matter
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and the mind. Today, we assume that we've found this principle in evolution. That may be true, but we let ourselves accept this as fact without even knowing what men have thought before us. We don't even stop to realize that, if we accept that this theory includes the evolution of man's mind, we sacrifice the idea of an afterlife. There can be no life or existence except this physical existence. I'm not going to discuss this thesis, I just want to say that we shouldn't blindly accept ideas that have such far-reaching conclusions just because another man's reason says so. We let his logic persuade us to come to his conclusion. Remember that Reason's job is to come up with logical reasons to 'prove' any idea we accept into our mind.
It's our job is to choose which notions we're willing to entertain. To make this kind of choice wisely, our conscience needs to be well-educated. Knowing the history of what's been thought before us will provide us with lots of examples of Reason's fallibility. Then we'll understand that just because something 'proves' itself to be correct doesn't guarantee that it's right. We can be more sure by looking in two directions--to the past history of ancient thought, and to the future as we try to foresee how issues will play themselves out to a conclusion. We can't trust our own reasoning, or another man's, no matter how conclusive it seems. We need to reach our own conclusions by letting our Reason work on reliable knowledge that we've collected from a wide range of sources. A person who refuses to consider what's happened before, and won't trace an idea to its logical conclusion, may claim that he's embracing the truth, but he's really clinging to ignorant bias.
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If you remember, Columbus heard an idea that was pretty popular. It was the possibility that there was a western passage to the Indies. After a few failed attempts to find support, he brought his idea to Ferdinand and Isabella. They were favorable to his idea and provided him with ships and money. If he had only come with a notion that seemed feasible to him, he would have been merely an adventurer. But he knew enough about historical sea voyages to realize that a way to the Indies by his route had never been attempted. He knew enough geographical principles to make a plausible case for his theory. He was able to use the knowledge he had accumulated to predict an outcome. That's why he was able to make a case for his scheme before the Spanish king and queen and persuade them.
There's no escaping the fact that we need knowledge, especially knowledge of ideas. The myriad of ridiculous sham philosophies of our day--and all other eras--come from minds that are ignorant of the past. They don't realize that their novel, radical idea is only a patched-up rehash of ideas that were tried before and didn't work.
Many men believe that they have a message the world needs. They become fanatics and make lots of converts, which is not difficult to do. But not every radical idea is a divine message. Divine messages don't come to just anyone, they come to minds that are 'already prepared by a Power higher than nature itself to receive such messages,' as Coleridge said. Preparation means having knowledge, insight, foresight, wisdom that's humble, and the gentleness of a teachable spirit. These are the signs that help each of us to discern whether we have a message, and--and this is also a mission--
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whether we're prepared to take our message and carry it forward to the world. There are lots and lots of messages and messengers. Yet few things get in the way of improving the world so much as stubbornly adopting fanatical notions because they sound appealing and seem logical to our own faulty reasoning. When it comes to philosophy and even practical matters in life, the safest thing is to realize that we're not above being convinced of anything, no matter how wrong or foolish, unless we have an educated conscience and use it when considering whether a notion is acceptable or not.
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Theology, divinity, knowledge of God, or whatever we call it, is an area that needs the control of an educated conscience more than any other. We tend to think as children do--that God requires us to be good, and punishes us when we're bad, and that's all we need to know about religion. We totally neglect one fact that Jesus Himself confirmed--that God is 'eternal life.'
Maybe it's because the word 'eternal' brings to mind the far-off future, which is something we don't like to think too much about. We don't understand that eternity has already started--it includes future, past and present. Life--full, rich, abundant life--means knowing God now. Without that knowledge of God, we can't experience any free, joyful activity. We can't have the fulfilled glow of feelings, happy living free from worry, eyes that are alert to appreciate all beauty, a heart that's open to all goodness, a responsive mind, tender heart, and aspiring soul. All of these help to make a complete, full life experience. Most people have poor, crippled lives. They survive as if they were dragging their limbs around because they're dead and useless, just a burden to
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carry around. They don't even realize that their minds are dull and their hearts are heavy because they don't have the knowledge of God that is life itself.
We tend to believe that knowledge about spiritual things comes by feelings. We're critical of ourselves if we don't feel as much emotion as we think we should. Yet if we examine the teachings of Christ, we find very little about feelings, and a lot about knowing. Jesus's teachings appeal to the intelligence, not emotional sentiment. 'He never spoke to them without using parables.' Why not? So that 'even though they heard, they wouldn't really hear, and even though they saw, they wouldn't really see, therefore they wouldn't understand.'
That method goes against every normal method of teaching. Generally, teachers work hard to make sure that even the slowest student clearly understands what he's saying. And we get impatient or annoyed at a poem or allegory that isn't obvious at first glance. In other words, we've decided that the responsibility for learning should all be on the teacher and none on the student.
But whatever comes too easy is soon lost--easy come, easy go. Knowledge is only retained if we invest some mental labor of our own. Especially when it comes to knowing about our religion, we need to read and mentally digest. We only grow on what we take in and assimilate so that it becomes a part of us. Jesus knew this. That's why He never gave easy sayings to teach people. Even His disciples didn't understand. Let's put ourselves in their shoes and listen to the Master's 'hard' teachings--hard intellectually as well as morally--and see what we'd get from them at the first hearing. Paul's detailed, involved arguments are
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much plainer. Even the vague prophecies of the Old Testament, or the Apocalypse itself, are easier to understand--at least, the parts that God has allowed to be revealed--than the 'simple' sayings of Christ. But this just proves the value of our Lord's way of teaching us that life comes of knowledge, the knowledge of God.
Where should we look for our knowledge of God? After all, we can only think if we have material to give us food for thought. Our first and last resource is the Bible, which is God's revelation to us. Knowledge of God only comes by revelation. We can only know God as He declares and shows Himself to us. That doesn't mean that there aren't 'few, feeble and faint' rays of revelation in eastern books that some people consider holy. That's to be expected, because God is the God of all people. He doesn't leave Himself without a witness anywhere. But those dim, weak rays aren't the knowledge that leads to God, not even by those who have those rays. They aren't looking for knowledge of God; they don't even realize that such a thing exists. Those people will just have to live in spiritual darkness, like they have since the beginning. They'll have to live there until they receive the light.
Higher criticism can be a threat to those of us who seek divine knowledge. It's good that there are scholars scrutinizing every jot and tittle of the Scriptures. The threat isn't that they might claim that the Bible isn't the word of God, but merely cultural Hebrew literature. If we don't focus on the minute literary criticism, but instead look for a gradual revelation of God Himself in all His beauty, which only comes from
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the Bible and nowhere else, then the truth of the Bible will confirm itself to us. Then we'll know, without needing academic proof, that,
Plato has given the last word on this matter both for his generation and ours. The threat I'm talking about is that, while we're focused on the questions of criticism, we might neglect the very knowledge that only comes with diligent work. We might not take the time to earnestly and devoutly study the Bible, yet that's the one and only way we can get a progressive knowledge of God.
We're already reaping the results of ignorance. Little books that take short Bible scriptures out of context and fabricate elaborate arguments to prove a philosophy of life that the Bible doesn't support are everywhere, and being touted as some wonderful new gospel. We hear about new developments in Christianity--but Biblical Christianity as revealed in Scripture already offers unlimited comprehensiveness about the beauty of holiness and knowledge of our limitless God. Everywhere we hear about all kinds of religions--some with Christ, some without. We hear some people teach that 'God in the flesh' means nothing more than a divine spark within ourselves, and that every power Jesus used to perform miracles is at our disposal to use as we wish.
What we have is a smug religiosity--a religion where we ourselves are our own standard. It might be called 'Christianity on a Higher Plane,' or Buddhism, or mystic Theosophy. Or it might take the form of the Russian Dukhobors, who refuse to obey any human law and believe that they're under the direct authority of
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God alone. One poor little community in Lancashire claim that 'there's no law but God's law,' and they've come to the absurd inference that all human laws are therefore sin. All of these signs mean one thing: we're declining because we're leaving our knowledge of God.
There's another result of ignorance that we're reaping. There's a paralyzing spirit of hesitancy and uncertainty upon us. We tolerate all beliefs--because we have no belief of our own. We say things like, 'I just don't know,' and, 'I'm not really sure' about what we believe. Or we'll say, 'What right do we have to think that someone else's creed isn't as true as our own?' Even our newspapers pose questions like, 'Is Christianity corrupt?' and then we indulge the notion by discussing and debating it! Or, if nothing else, it doesn't bother us to listen calmly while people toss around the one question that's our very life. Count on it--the only question that really matters is, 'What do you think of Christ?' We can't avoid the issue by claiming that, 'We don't think about Jesus, we just focus on the Father.' The truth is, 'No man comes to the Father but by Me.'
We can't live without this vital knowledge. We need it here and now, not some day in the future. Without it, a slow paralysis creeps over us. But how do we get this illuminating knowledge? There's only one source: the Bible itself. It's true that there's a divine spark of light in every person's soul; you can't light a lamp if there's no lamp to be lit. It seems like the Holy Spirit's method is to teach us by giving us an enlightening revelation of some phrase in the Bible from time to time. So we need to make it our business to familiarize ourselves with the text.
How, then, should we study
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our Bible, if we're not supposed to focus on textual criticism or even textual knowledge? The focus on our study needs to be Knowledge of God Himself.
We rely too much on other people's interpretations. We depend on commentaries, essays, sermons, poems, critiques, and we let them do our thinking for us. It would be better for us to, first of all, make our own effort at interpreting. When we get stuck or confused, that's the time to compare our thoughts with other people's. In choosing help, we need to look for people who have faithful, reverent minds and scholarly experience. The best method is an orderly plan of self-study with the occasional use of a trustworthy commentary as needed. Using 'good books' for spiritual stimulation ends up deadening a healthy appetite for truth. The same goes for little books with comments designed to stimulate certain character virtues, or states of mind. These tools are supposed to help our private devotion (public worship is another issue). But their problem is that they tend to put the focus on ourselves and our situation, while creating no thirst in us for the best knowledge. I'd guess that even our most pathetic efforts to read and understand for ourselves do more for our spiritual growth than even the best teaching. But a prepared heart and mind are required. We need to pray for deliverance from preconceived ideas and biases, and then wait on God in the same way that parched earth waits for rain.
In the Old Testament, it's good to read the life of one person all the way through, breaking it up if necessary. But keep in mind that the author is not like a tape recorder. He writes as himself, not as a machine. He may have been uninformed about some things, or had his own prejudices that come out in his writing. We can
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discern the author's personality in his books in the same way that any author's personality flavors his writing. The difference between the Bible and other books is that the men who wrote scripture were charged with the revelation of God and the way He deals with humans. They reveal something about humanity, too, revealing that mankind shares a certain childlike simplicity, and shows what we must look like to God. These narratives are written without excuse or justification, but with a strong emphasis on our simplicity. It's pretty clear that the Bible portrays people the way God sees us. Even good people do things that offend God, are punished and forgiven, just like children in a family.
In the same way that Abraham left Ur, we all leave our homes to seek our fortune. But in the Biblical story, we see more of what's going on. We're shown that it was really God who called him away, led him along, guided him through the learning process of his life, with results that culminated at a later time. Lives of Bible characters are 'types.' They show us the inner meaning of our own lives. We see things in their stories that we experience in our own lives--the restraining force of God that we're all aware of, the inspired whisper in our ear that comes to us at defining moments, the 'fixing of our boundaries' that is part of God's control and plan for our lives.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that because so many books talk about 'the Lord God, merciful and gracious, who will by no means clear the guilty,' that this truth is universally known. Every hint we get about God's Being is derived from the Bible, whether we consciously realize it or not, in the same way that the light of a candle is derived
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from the sun's light. What about the freethinker who doesn't believe in any God, yet talks about the love of man? Although he may think that idea is independent from God, the only concepts about the brotherhood and sonship of mankind that exist at all came through divine revelation from God delivered to us through certain people that He chose. Existing concepts that have already been revealed might be illuminated to us by the inner light that all of us have, but that's something different from the very first revelation of a totally original concept.
When humans have mastered everything there is to learn about God from what's been progressively revealed in the Bible, then maybe God will grant further revelation to men in the same gradual way.
As far as we can tell about God's law for how things are revealed, it seems like, once God has revealed something, He doesn't repeat the revelation. Also, God has already revealed and recorded under His authority as much about Himself as we can handle. It seems like, in our day, the Holy Spirit's work is to illuminate a meaning here and there for each of us, so that our education in the knowledge of God is gradually progressing as long as we have a listening ear and an understanding heart.
In this respect, poets write and artists paint under divine inspiration when they write or paint things that reveal spiritual truth. In the same way, we can believe what the Medieval Christians believed--that things are still being revealed that weren't previously known. For example, great mysteries of nature seem to be revealed to people whose minds are prepared for them. One recent new discovery is that matter is made of ions and electrons. This kind of truth is as divinely of God as spiritual knowledge, and I believe it's
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a truth that God reveals when the world is ready to receive it.
But even here the same two laws seem to apply. Revelation is never repeated--the law of gravity or the circulation of blood can't be re-revealed once it's known. And there's never too many of these kinds of discoveries to keep up with. We don't get a new revelation until we've mastered, assimilated and 'owned' what's already been given to us.
This is probably why all there is to know about God is in the Bible. We know so little about Him, and we're so far from mastering the Biblical concepts of beauty and goodness, that we're not ready for additional revelation. Keep in mind that, when God gives new revelation to an individual, it's always for the benefit of the world. No man is given knowledge just for his own private self. If the world, represented by its best and most thoughtful people, is too ignorant to be ready for new revelation, then the revelation is withheld until the world is ready for it. That's why the person with an educated conscience doesn't rush off every time he hears, 'Lo, here!' about some novel spiritual happening. We need to be careful about responding to private interpretations of Scripture that supposedly escaped notice by the Church until now. When it comes to our great first duty, we need to stay true to 'sober walking in true gospel ways.' [from Ninth Sunday After Trinity by John Keble]
When it comes to knowing which parts of the Bible are merely human and which are inspired, the answer isn't found in critical studies and destructive criticism. It takes gradually absorbing the concept of
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God as He is unfolded to us in the preparation of the Old Testament, and then in the glorious manifestation of the Gospels, and then the way it all applies to the life of the Church in the Acts and Epistles. If we study diligently and carefully, and if our hearts are quick to love, then we'll be able to tell which words aren't God's. For instance, it's obvious that 'break their teeth in their jaws' isn't something God would say. It's a remark originating from a violent human heart. It is allowed to pass without comment, just like most of what's recorded of men's ways and actions in the Bible.
If we study diligently, we'll be rewarded with the ability to tell when a popular interpretation isn't correct because it doesn't have any divine revelation or simple portrayal of humans. And we'll be knowledgeable enough to realize that, just because a Bible incident isn't something we see everyday in real life, that doesn't mean it's not inspired by God. Such incidents are not essential; they're peripheral, and don't help us understand God any better. We don't understand how it is that essential truth can be revealed to us through Biblical history or records. But we all know that we've heard a voice tempting us to sin, as Eve heard the serpent. We've all given in to the sin, as Eve did when she ate the fruit, and we've all become miserably self-conscious, as Eve was after she ate the fruit. And, just like Eve having to leave the garden, we've had to leave the paradise of our innocence. But we have hope, as Eve did. We can even believe that the difficult story about the sun stopping in its course was inspired by God. Haven't we all had times when the sun hasn't gone down on us before our deliverance was completed, or we've escaped from a danger, or finished a task? It seems like God's Spirit teaches essential
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truths. Those are the truths we base our lives on, and they're appropriate for all people. Yet we need to be cautious when we use this method of interpretation. God undoubtedly uses impressions sometimes to speak to His children, but He also uses facts. When the most straight-forward fact has an obvious interpretation, we should beware about seeking an alternative meaning.
There's something else we need to be careful about. We shouldn't try to interpret Scripture with the kind of sentimental affection that seems to be the most popular gospel these days. We read that thousands died in the wilderness because they complained or rebelled, that the ground opened and swallowed up some proud tribal leaders, or that death was the penalty for men who committed the sin of irreverence. These incidents don't prove that the Bible isn't true. There may be some inaccuracies in some of the specific statements that men made. Verbal inspiration, where the writer is simply taking dictation, would eliminate the human aspect that seems to be necessary in all of God's communications with people. It shouldn't make us too quick to accuse the Bible of being nothing but worthless fables.
When a ship sinks with everybody on board, when thousands die in a flood or fire, when famine and disease is rampant, godly people in the olden days would have said it was an act of God. That's how the Bible describes these kinds of events. With our modern knowledge, we blame bad drainage, unsanitary conditions, negligence, faulty construction, flooding or storms, but we're merely identifying an intermediary step. Those things are mistakes that men made, and God visits them and uses wind and storm to fulfill His promise [to punish sin].
The mystery we see in the Old Testament is one we see in life itself, too. Jesus shed some light on it when he commented on the
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Galilean Tower [Luke 13]. But it's possible that the full answer might be that, to God, who knows what comes next, death is a less fateful event than it seems to us, who don't know what's on the other side. When Jesus wept, He wasn't sad for Lazarus. He was sad for the grief that all people have to suffer, as Lazarus's sisters did. Maybe He was thinking, 'If they only knew!'
I've gone over some of the biases and misconceptions that tend to hinder us as we read the Bible. It's these kinds of things we need to get rid of so that we'll always be ready to read with an open mind and a willing heart, until we gradually learn the way God acts with people, and something about divine purity, mercy, love and justice. Even if we hear another account of a world-wide flood, or a story just like Joseph being sold into Egypt, or laws similar to Moses', or any other story that appears in pagan cultures, we won't be surprised. God is the God of all people, and surely He's had some kind of dealing with all of the nations in the world. The difference is that Israel knew God. Because Israel knew God, and, because of their distinct spiritual insight, they were permitted to share what they learned with the rest of the world, God revealed a bit of what it meant to have Him dealing with humans in a way that nations who didn't know God knew nothing about. Those nations were pathetically and cruelly ignorant about Him. The mind that doesn't know God can't help but to be a victim of superstition. Just recently, in an area of India suffering from plague, some boxes containing paperwork for a public examination arrived. Soon there was a rumor that plague was inside the boxes and it would be unleashed in the town when the sahib opened the boxes. Even Israel itself, as an example for us, relapsed
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into ignorance of God. Then they began to sacrifice their own children to Molech. They ended up trying to pay for the sins of their souls with the fruit of their body.
One dangerous teaching these days is the constantly taught concept of God as a permissive parent. The Bible portrays Him as a Father who 'punishes those He loves, and chastises every son He accepts.' Even His only begotten Son, whom He called, 'My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased' was christened and afflicted. Too much attention to our own aches and complaints might interfere with what God's trying to teach us.
The main purpose of the Gospels is to show us what Christ is like. In the Gospels, we see him as he spoke, as he worked, and as he died. There's no other person in history that we can learn to know so completely as Jesus. Our goal in reading shouldn't be as much to find comfort and advice for ourselves, but to understand Jesus with our minds and receive His image with our hearts. Knowing Him is life, and is all of life. Every detail about Jesus walking in the cornfields, or tired and sitting by the well, mixing with crowds of people or praying in remote areas, gazing out at the crowd, taking the little girl by the hand--every one of these images that shows us Jesus real and living is life to us. In the same way that seemingly casual strokes of the artist's brush gradually make the painting look more and more like the real thing, every seemingly trivial and casual incident about Jesus will
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gradually come together to form a living vision of the Master. Then we will cherish more than any other beauty on earth or in heaven,
If we want to see a clear image of Jesus, then we need to stay focused, not letting ourselves be clouded by too many opinions from others. One of the more recent popular opinions is that 'miracles don't really happen,' except for the kind that every man makes happen for himself!
The vast amount of discussion on this topic is enough to make anybody doubt. But if we're careful to teach our conscience a couple of things, we won't be blinded by this obstruction built out of destructive criticism. For one thing, it's possible that miracles aren't the great, unusual things we think they are. When John wrote about what we'd define miracles, he called them signs. Maybe in our day and age, we have (or, should have!) the substance and entire faith in Christ so that we no longer require signs for proof. As far as the incredible miracles in the Gospels that are such precious and appropriate evidences of Christ's mind, the most damaging thing that scientists have been able to come up with in challenging miracles like the water turned to wine is that they've never seen it happen themselves. They can't even definitively say that it would be impossible, or even contrary to the laws of nature. The latest scientific discoveries have humbled scientific men. They now realize that they don't understand the laws of nature as well as they thought they did. All they're really acquainted with
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are a few of the ways nature works. So they have to admit that nothing is impossible.
Or, people think they can have it both ways. They think they can believe in God and Jesus and call themselves Christians, and yet scoff as if miracles were some leftover from the dark ages. But such people have forgotten how important faith is. Their focus is on specific incidents, and they lose sight of the realization that the Christian life itself is a miracle. The very fact that God should converse with humans, that we can pray and know without a doubt that He hears and answers, that the hearts of princes can be restrained at our word, that whatever desires of our hearts that are suitable and right will be fulfilled, although usually in a simple, natural-appearing way--these things are like signs for us. They're miracles in themselves. Thy imply that our God is involved with our lives immediately and personally. He doesn't just act in your life, or mine. He acts in behalf of all the creatures that He takes care of.
The most amazing part of the Gospel story besides Jesus' death on the cross isn't any of the miracles. It's the words of the Temple servant who was sent to capture Jesus, but instead he defined Christ's unique distinction, 'No man before ever spoke like this Man.' What man would dare stand up and volunteer Himself to the world with words like, 'I am the bread of life,' 'I am the light of the world,' 'I am the truth,' 'Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.' The foundation of Christianity is Christ Himself verifying the truth of these and other sayings. All Christians everywhere from all ages have known
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that these things are true; they know that because they've experienced it. That's the knowledge that is life. When we begin to have this kind of knowledge, the miracles that Jesus did only matter in the sense that they show us Jesus' mind, his kindness and compassion, and how his pity compelled Him to do acts of mercy.
Another modern tendency is to deny the Incarnation and the Resurrection and assume that He was born like any other baby, and died and was buried like anybody else, except that He was better than other men and thus an example for us.
Scientific men are quick to admit their profound ignorance about the causes of birth and life and death. They know the physical processes, but the causes and principles elude them. Science is just as limited by mysteries as religion is. No one knows enough to prove that the Incarnation is an impossibility, or the Resurrection, either. But if these didn't happen the way the Bible says, then Paul is right--we are without hope, and Christ doesn't exist. If He was a man like any other man, then the Jews would have been correct in labeling Him a blasphemer. We could have no inspiration from His life, no peace from His death, and no hope from His resurrection.
The conscience needs to be educated regarding the serious kinds of doubts that are casually discussed in magazines, newspapers, and popular books. We can't attend to our first duty if our mind is divided. We've been taught that the first commandment is,
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'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.' But how can we love Him if we don't know Him? And how can we know Him if we have so many doubts about Him that we aren't sure about? Don't forget the danger of a doubt. Once we entertain it in our mind, it's there for good. It becomes a part of us, and might reappear at any time. Like a sickness that gets into the bloodstream, it will resurface later. We tend to think that there's some intellectual mark of distinction in being skeptical, and being doubtful is academic. But doubt can exist even in a slower mind, which can doubt human things as well as spiritual ones. A greater mind is one that can cut away the dross and find the heart of the issue, and present it so clearly that no room is left for doubt. It has been wisely said that, 'to an alert, positive mind, difficulties and confusions seem like dross that keeps floating to the surface and dims the splendor of the truth. But he skims it off and gets rid of it again and again until only the pure truth remains. But a negative, doubting mind is like lead. When all the dross is finally skimmed off, there's nothing left.' [Coventry Patmore]
An educated conscience would say, 'Loyalty won't allow that,' when he's tempted to entertain negative thoughts about Christ that dishonor God. Only an educated conscience realizes how much is implied in a single skeptical idea. Only an educated conscience understands that our faith is built from living stones, not from dead opinions and intellectual doctrine. It's like a living body. One wound can make it bleed.
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On the other hand, an uneducated conscience is convinced that 'Truth' is so all-important that its job is to over-analyze, hyper-scrutinize and cling to every objection that challenges it. We need to remember that objection is negative, not positive. Truth is built up by affirming it, not by seeking ways to tear it down. If we focus on the affirmative part of the truth, the negative dissipates like fog in the sunshine. We have no right to tamper with destructive challenges to Truth before we've worked to assure ourselves of knowledge.
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The Conscience has other teachers it needs to learn from besides the ones I've already named. People are starting to realize that it's shamefully ignorant to live in this rich, beautiful world without even knowing the names of the things around us. When people inherit precious collections, they feel that it's their duty to know and to know something about the things in the collection. To not even bother to find out would be rudely ignorant. This is something we're all obligated to do, because we've all inherited the heavens and the earth, the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. We all have a right to these things and nobody can take them away from us. But if we don't know the first thing about them, not even enough to know what they're called, then Nature will be a cause of irritation and depression to us instead of a source of joy.
One thing is certain--ignorance is a fault that never goes unpunished.
'The loud, obnoxious laugh that displays an empty mind,'
and startles us as we're enjoying the peaceful quiet of some natural
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beauty, doesn't just display a vacant mind. It also shows the resentment and annoyance that go along with ignorance. We have a responsibility to things as well as people. The responsibility we owe to nature is recognition, appreciation and preservation.
When it comes to learning about Nature, we don't just have a responsibility to it, but to ourselves, too, because,
'Nature has never betrayed a heart that loved her.'
In return for our selective, ardent observation, Nature repays us with the joy of a beautiful intimacy that delights us. We'll get a thrill of pleasure when we greet familiar birds or stars, like old friends, in the fields, bushes and skies. Every new acquaintance will be delightfully exciting.
But that's not all Nature does for us. She also gives us certain mental attitudes that we can't get anywhere else. These dispositions are what help us to get life into perspective, learning to tell the difference between important matters and trivial ones. In the perspective of Nature, we come to realize that we're really not very important. The world is big and wide, the things in it are good. People are good, too. In fact, we begin to sense that we're surrounded by an atmosphere of goodness. And so we are. It's the air of heaven coming down to us from God. We become aware of all of this in 'the silence and serenity of things that can't talk or reason.' Our hearts begin to feel full of love and worship. Nature's quiet lessons teach us to walk softly, and to do our duty towards God and our fellow man.
When it comes to man's most important duty--his duty towards God--Nature is a perfect teacher. There's a story of a young servant [Brother Lawrence] who was discouraged because he was so clumsy. But then he
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was on an errand and a tree whose leaves hadn't budded yet made him stop and reflect. The fact that the tree would soon grow lots of leaves amazed him. He was suddenly aware of how harmonious and beautiful God's order is. The leafless tree changed the way he'd been thinking, and he almost instantly became well-known as a saint who was distinguished for his beautiful humility and simplicity of life.
Another sweet lesson is told by missionary Mungo Park:
'I saw myself in the middle of a remote wilderness during the worst part of the rainy season. I was exposed and alone, surrounded by wild, savage animals, and by natives who were even more savage. I was 500 miles away from the nearest European settlement. All of those factors rushed into my mind at the same time, and I have to confess, my spirit failed me. Just at that moment, in the midst of my scary thoughts, my eye caught sight of the extraordinary beauty of a fruit-bearing moss. I mention this to show how the mind can derive comfort from the most trifling circumstances. Even though the entire plant was no bigger than my fingertip, I couldn't help admiring the delicate arrangement of its roots, leaves and membrane. God planted, watered, and grew to perfection this tiny, insignificant plant in an obscure corner of the world. Would He look with unconcern on the situation and crisis of me, a creature formed in His own image? Surely not! Reflections like this kept me from total despair. Disregarding my hunger and weariness, I started up and kept moving forwards. I felt assured that relief would come soon, and it did.'
Regarding our duty to God, Nature doesn't only help us in our own spiritual life. Some people have been blessed with the grace of being tenderly and reverently thankful to men who write great books, or paint great pictures, and grateful in a less reverent way to people who discover
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great inventions. How much more we should thank God, the Maker, who designed the beauty, glory and harmony above us, at our feet, and all around us, from the 'flower in the crannied wall' to the 'glorious firmament on high,' and everything else in Nature that proclaims without ceasing, 'Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty.'
The recent progress of science and men's preoccupation with the technical structural details of things in nature have acted like a thick fog that hides the Creator. We've been content to think that the beauty we delight in and the orderly effectiveness that astonishes us are something we produced or figured out ourselves. Science is acting like a child who's so obsessed with a new toy, that he's forgotten who made the toy and gave it to him in the first place. He's annoyed and irritated when someone tries to remind him. He doesn't deny that the toy was given to him by the one who made it, but the toy is all he cares about. Science's preoccupation, which has benefited us by adding to our knowledge about the world, is starting to pass away. Scientific minds are becoming more and more aware that there's a power even higher than Nature herself, and this power is what's behind all the workings of Nature.
With this recognition will come gratitude. A thankful heart is a happy heart. It's truly joyful and pleasant to be thankful!
Science's role is to reveal to us what we call the Laws of Nature. As the conscience seeks its lessons, it must wait upon this teacher, Science, diligently. A person with no scientific training can make rash conclusions and reckless statements that cause trouble in society. It can lead to superstition and prejudice.
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Scientific training isn't the same as information about specific scientific subjects. In this day and age, it's impossible to avoid hearing random information about radiation, wireless communication, genetics, and lots of other topics. But facts like these do nothing to train the mind to make accurate observations, record unbiased data, wait with humble expectation in an attitude of patience, reverence, and humility, knowing that any tiny natural specimen might be hiding profound secrets. Those secrets could be the key to helping us discover laws that we still only have a vague awareness of.
Proper scientific training should give us an attitude that makes us behave ourselves quietly, think fairly and justly, and walk humbly with God. But we should never confuse casual knowledge of scientific text-books with the kind of patient investigation of even one kind of natural object that we do for ourselves. This is the kind of investigation in one field or another that each of us should do. It's true that our own personal observation can only cover a drop in the vast ocean of Science knowledge, but the frame of mind we get from our own small bit of first-hand observation helps us to understand what's being done in other fields of science. It makes it impossible for us to go around this amazing world full of wonders like gaping country bumpkins at a county fair.
I'll say it again--patient nature observation isn't something we can take or leave as we wish, it's our duty. Let's take some time every day to diligently and consistently watch the doings of birds, spiders, flowers, clouds, or wind, and record what we've seen first-hand. We can correct our data later as we learn to be more accurate. We should be careful not to jump to hasty conclusions. Everything we discover may be old news that's already been written about in books,
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but it will mean more to us because we saw it ourselves, and it's our own personal discovery. It's a little bit of the world's real work, and we tried it and did it. No matter how little we actually discover this way, it helps us by increasing our ability to appreciate beauty as well as harmony, adaptability and natural processes. We become more reverent and awed, and we enter into a truer relationship with God, the Great Worker, Creator and Designer.
The world has received a great promise--God will always leave us a few great teachers. There will always be a select few who God will whisper to in their ear so that they can bring His direct message to the rest of us. Some of these messengers are the great painters who interpret some of the meanings of life to us. Being able to comprehend what they're saying correctly is our responsibility. But, like other good gifts, this gift doesn't just come naturally. It's the reward for humbly and patiently studying. We won't discern Fra Angelico's message about the beauty of holiness in a day or a year, or Giotto's interpretation of the meaning of life, or the simplicity and dignity of honest labor of the soil that Millet saw, or the sweet humanity that Rembrandt saw in common faces.
'Stretching himself so that God might refresh and refill him
Above and through his art,'
has lessons to teach us that we need to learn. He might communicate them with a brush and paint, or architecture, or as a cathedral of sound, like the symphony that organist Abt Vogler improvised. The outward, visible form of the message isn't as important as the inner spiritual grace.
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In order to be in the right frame of mind to receive the grace of these kinds of lessons from great art, we need to appreciate and discriminate. We need to learn how to tell the synthetic from the essential, and to tell technical skill that allows the artist to express himself, from what's being expressed, even if the thing is only the grace and majesty of a tree. Once again, this kind of appreciation isn't something we have if we feel like it. We owe it as an obligation. We fulfill this obligation by patiently and humbly studying. And, just like any other work that the conscience does to educate itself, we'll be enriched for our efforts. But our goal can't be our own self-culture. We need to look at it as a humble attempt to pay a debt we owe in appreciation. Then we'll avoid becoming a superior, high-class snob!
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'Expend as much effort as you can to get understanding,' says Solomon [Prov 4]. No one is too young or too overworked or too preoccupied to fulfill their duty of understanding how other people live. What kinds of things do other people need? What things would help them, and what would do them harm? It's good for all of us to think about housing for the homeless, alcoholism, medical care for the poor, how to deal with crime, education and literacy of individuals and countries.
Jesus said, 'When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was naked, you clothed me, when I was sick and in prison, you visited me.' These words of Christ's have probably touched the hearts of all Christians with more intensity of meaning than anything else He said. Few of us can avoid feeling self-condemnation when we hear them. It isn't that we're hard-hearted or unfeeling or merciless. In fact, it's the opposite. An appeal on the news brings an overwhelming and even detrimental amount of help. Panhandlers are able to get rich from handouts. We're eager to help in any case of need that we hear about, as
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much to ease our conscience because of Jesus's words as to ease the suffering of another person.
But these kinds of casual attempts to help can frustrate people who work steadily and faithfully to help their fellow brothers and sisters who have needs. These workers know what kind of harm is done by superficial charity, so a lot of people decide that it's safest just to not give anything to anyone. They're afraid of doing more harm than good, so they pick a few highly visible charities to donate yearly to, and leave it at that. This is a mistake caused by an uneducated conscience. It's wise for all of us to set out to learn as much as we can by reading, asking questions, thinking, looking for effective, proactive ways to help, holding to our faith that,
Usually there's a ministry that needs our help right in front of us. We rarely have to go out of our way to find a divinely appointed way to help our fellow man.
The key is to keep our eyes and ears open. The right thing to do is never pushy, and we might overlook it without even noticing it. We need to keep three things in mind. We need to develop wide knowledge of needs and concern for them. We need to do our homework and then commit ourselves to one specific effort to help. And, in all of our efforts, we need to remember Jesus's words: 'What do you want Me to do for you?' Any of our efforts that don't minister to a person in a way that truly helps him, isn't really love. And without love, we have no right to serve others. It's important to keep this in mind now more than ever, because these days we don't often deal with individuals
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and we have to do our work through organizations. Organizations often fail because they forget that help is only helpful if it's the kind of help that needy people want. Our responsibility isn't to appease our own guilt, but to discriminate and select between all of the needs, and then act in true love.
It's hard to find one word that covers what we are and what we can become. We'll use the word philosophy, because knowing ourselves is wisdom. We all like getting what we call knowledge about ourselves--we get scalp readings from phrenologists, analyses of our handwriting, and we love to hear polite comments that acquaintances make about us. But that's the kind of knowledge that 'puffs us up' because it's usually flattering and not true. We might very well deserve praise for some of the things we're praised for, but false flattery fills us with the notion that we have this or that charming quality--and then we start to believe that those who see another side of us are unkind or unfair.
This is so obvious to some cautious people that they decide not to give even a thought about what qualities they have or don't have, whether good or bad, unless a serious fault is brought to their attention. If life was as simple and free as they make it out to be, this would be a good plan. But we're all human. We're born into a great inheritance--woods, cornfields, meadows, fishponds, etc. In fact, what we're born into is a kingdom, the one I wrote about before called the kingdom of Mansoul.
In this kingdom, just like any other kingdom, a casual, careless manager ruins his lands, lets fields run to waste and weeds, and allows so much disorder that the land can't be restored in a generation.
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We do need knowledge of ourselves, yet it isn't proper to think of ourselves personally. Jesus said correctly, 'If I bear witness of myself, my witness isn't true.' If that was true of Jesus, our Master, then it's even more true of us. We're generally polite enough not to give our own estimation of ourselves out loud, we know better than to announce how brave and generous we are, or how intelligent or kind. But we probably bear witness of ourselves to ourselves, privately patting ourselves on the back for some worthy quality or good deed. When we do that, our witness isn't true. Whatever virtue we may be priding ourselves for isn't ours. Even a good deed loses its virtue when our own prideful praise removes the good from it.
This makes it sound like the people are right who say that it's best not to ever think of ourselves at all. But 'ourselves' can mean two things. It can mean the things we say and do and feel, which are pathetic and trivial, or it can mean the glorious human nature full of unlimited potential that all humans share with great heroes, wise philosophers, and even Jesus Himself.
It's profane to excuse greed, laziness, sin, all kinds of depravity by saying, 'It's just human nature.' After all, human nature can do all sorts of godly things, too. Jesus, the Son of Man, came and showed us all what we can become if we accept the indwelling Holy Spirit. The more we realize how wonderful and full of possibilities human nature is, the more we'll understand how one soul can be worth more than the whole world. Jesus always spoke seriously and truthfully. His estimation of a single soul is no exaggeration. I don't think He means that every soul is so valuable to God. It means that every soul or person is so very
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great just because it's human, that its worth can't be measured. This is why the infinite loving God isn't willing for even one to perish. We shouldn't focus on our particular individual quirks that we think make us special, but we should recognize what makes us all valuable as human beings. Don't forget that a person may own something, but it's worthless to him if he doesn't even know he owns it.
Only when we grasp how great even the most insignificant soul is can we truly have the kind of zealous compassion for our fellow man that helps us follow through in doing our small part to save the world. God has called all of us to serve, not just for His sake, but for the sake of people who need our help. The purpose of this book is for any readers who don't realize how much they're worth, to be introduced to themselves. I don't need to explain why we should know ourselves, or in what way we should know ourselves at this point. I'd like to clarify one thing, though. Knowing ourselves isn't a bother, and the knowledge won't make us feel a weight of responsibility. We just need to learn what we have. Once we know, it's no trouble trying to remember that we need to feed our imagination, practice using our reason, educate our conscience, etc. With this kind of knowledge about ourselves, as with so many other things, we just need to get things started and the rest seems to take care of itself.
God, in His mercy, made us so that managing and controlling ourselves becomes automatic and unconscious when we commit to it as our duty. It's the careless, casual people who find themselves in sticky situations or in serious trouble.
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Conscience seems to have only one job: to convince us that something is a sin, or transgression. Bible teachers in the past used to talk a lot about an 'approving conscience,' but such a conscience doesn't really approve. It's just silent. After all, self-approval itself is wrong, as we've already mentioned. So then, you might wonder,are we fine as long as our conscience doesn't say anything? Not at all. The conscience's verdict is only as accurate as our knowledge and what we allow by habit.
People who have traveled among uncivilized tribes say that all people know in their conscience that it's wrong to murder, steal, slander, dishonor parents, and commit certain other offenses. Everybody's conscience knows to be hospitable to strangers and faithful to friends. Even the most debased people seem to have a sense of honor and worship due to God, although their concept of a god may be crude. Even a baby who's too little to run knows that it's 'naughty' to disobey.
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We each have a mentor inside us that condemns us when we do wrong. But this internal judge can only base his judgments on what he knows. As we've already discussed, Conscience needs education in many various areas.
Not even religion can substitute for an educated conscience. That would be as ridiculous as expecting God's love to teach an unschooled person how to read. All of us have been born with a conscience, but we need to provide its education ourselves. It's important to remember this fact as we read history, as we make judgments about current events, as we form opinions about people we know and famous persons, and, most of all, what is acceptable to do and think ourselves.
Reflecting on this makes us more able to fine-tune our morals. We won't try to justify the things said or done by good men that don't seem right. We'll understand that even good people have areas where their consciences haven't been fully informed. We won't change our minds and say, 'He's a bad man,' because he did this or that thing that wasn't gentle or fair. Instead, we'll say, 'He's wrong in this because he hasn't bothered to inform himself.' And when we realize that even the best and wisest people are prone to make mistakes through moral ignorance, we'll be even more careful to remain teachable ourselves so we might avoid making mistakes.
It isn't just ignorance that limits the conscience. Allowances can also blind the conscience from making proper judgments. We might see offenses in others and call them by a more palatable name. We might allow ourselves to habitually do things that we know we shouldn't, or think what we know isn't right. And those things blind our conscience so that he stops speaking and no longer tells us when something is wrong.
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There's another way we cripple the conscience, and we need to be on guard against it with diligent care, because this sin can seem to be righteous. I'm talking about letting the mind be absorbed by a single idea. This is what's responsible for most wars and all persecutions, family feuds, jealousies, envy, resentment against friends, and half of the conflict and unhappiness of life. The danger is that well-intentioned people can get so focused on one particular offense that they lose their sense of proportion. It's like a dime-sized spot on a window blocking out the view of the sun.
When we remember that ignorance, making allowances, and prejudice makes the conscience useless to its owner, we aren't so dismayed by the appalling vision of the Church of Alexandria that Charles Kingsley gave us in Hypatia. It doesn't make us lose faith in Christianity itself. We understand that the monks of Nitria, headed by Cyril, sinned because of their own moral ignorance, because of the hardness of heart that resulted from making allowances, and because of the madness of being obsessed with one idea. Because their consciences were full of offence, they shamed the very Christianity they professed to love.
When we consider these things, we won't miss the lessons we read from history, or from life, that we get from the strife of differing opinions about good men and great movements. We'll be able to see the moral blind spot that could have been removed and enlightened some wonderful leaders, and yet we'll still be able to think of them as great and good. We'll discern the danger of a compelling idea in a popular movement before it's played itself out.
Nothing is more encouraging to a history enthusiast than a sense that people's consciences are continually increasing in enlightenment. From age to age and year to year,
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we become aware of more subtle offenses and more obscure debts because God is dealing with us and teaching us. When men and nations seek for the wisdom that comes from above, God rewards them with continual increasing progress in moral enlightenment. They get even more ability to see what's right in great and minor issues.
'Conscience makes cowards of all of us,' said Shakespeare, and he knew what was in people better than anyone else, except God. We tend to soften the phrase so that it loses its force. we read it as, Conscience makes cowards of all who do wrong, or maybe, all of us when we do wrong. And thus we create a loophole that allows us to avoid condemnation most days. We hear people say that a sense of sin isn't something that everybody experiences anymore. People can't confess anymore with conviction that they've, 'left undone what should have been done, and done the things they shouldn't have done.' When this is true, it's because the conscience has been drugged or tricked.
It's still a glowing truth that conscience makes us all cowards. We wake up in the morning with a sense of fear, uneasiness, anxiety. There's no cause for it, as far as we can tell. But there it is, the horrible fear that something bad is going to happen to us because we deserve it. Scientists blame it on stress, and that's very likely, although even healthy, strong people know this dread as well as the weak, stressed person does. But calling it 'stress,' or 'hypochondria,' or 'the blues,' or 'migraines,' or 'depression' just labels the symptom without identifying the cause. The cowardice of conscience troubles all of us, whether old, young, rich, or poor, and it doesn't matter whether it takes the form of physical symptoms or
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workaholism or compulsive shopping. We take on activities just to pass the time and get us through the day so that we'll hopefully be tired enough to escape into sleep at night. But even the busiest, most cheerful people have moments of vague fear when the terrors of their conscience crowd in on them. Many people attempt to reason it away with logic. They convince themselves that they live as decently as anyone else. They're kind, respectable, even religious. Why should their conscience cause them to fear?
During the times when the inescapable accusation comes to us with startling force, 'I was hungry and you didn't feed Me,' it seems like our sins of neglect and casual omissions are the full story of our lives. How can we ever make up and catch up on all the little things that we never did? We feel like we're cast into the outer darkness of dismay, and we feel like cowards in front of our conscience. In a general way, we tend to confuse sin with crime--since we haven't committed murder or robbery or done any of the other things that society says is illegal, we think we're innocent. We're like the rich young ruler who said about the commandments, 'I've obeyed all of them since the time I was young.' Then, just like him, we're shown all the good things that we could do, and might have done, and suddenly we're ashamed and aware of the sin in our lives.
'There's nothing well about me!' we cry sincerely from a broken heart. 'I'm such a miserable thing,' or 'such a worthless person,' or, 'I was so foolish and ignorant that I was like an animal to You.' These are the cries of the simple conscience when it catches a glimpse every now and then of the vast
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possibilities it has in life, and the ten or ten thousand talents that come with it.
'Who is sufficient for these things?' we cry. And the anxious conscience has no peace or rest until it's able to say, 'My sufficiency is in God.'
We're told that it's the Holy Spirit's job to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. As we witness the constant way that God's spirit works on men's spirits, we see the secret of how we're made aware of sin we didn't even know we were guilty of, and how we start craving a righteousness that's greater than we have, and where the sense of a judgment in the future comes from that wakes us up many mornings and troubles us as we go to bed when we don't know of any particular wrong thing we've done.
Since these vague convictions come from God, we don't try to drown them with entertainment and activity, and we don't sit down to a pity party and create stress-induced symptoms in ourselves. There's a better, more excellent way.
When we count our blessings, let's not overlook the continual rebuke of our conscience. A wise man once said that, if there were no other proof of God, the conscience of man would be proof enough. Let's accept the struggles we have with our conscience with this perspective, and be glad.
Our guilt from what we neglect to do may be what troubles us most in our quiet moments, but they aren't the greatest trouble of our lives by any means! We have to struggle against floods just like St. Christopher did, no matter how quiet and uneventful the circumstances of our lives may appear. All it takes is some minor aggravation or irritation over a trivial matter, or a slight annoyance against a friend, or some unforeseen circumstance that complicates our plans, and we become like cuttlefish, who blacken the water all around themselves. Suddenly, without warning, we find ourselves in a flood of anger, resentment, manipulation, and maybe even fantasies of revenge. It's as if we're swept off our feet and can't get back up. We flounder and claw frantically at the waves until we're exhausted before we finally fight our way back to decency and peace. We don't intend these sudden lapses. We don't will them. We don't even see them coming. It's as if we become possessed and have no ability on our own to struggle out of the flood of hostility, pride, impurity, greed, envy, or whatever other evil has overwhelmed us.
The fact that we don't even see them coming indicates that these falls must be caused by something outside of ourselves. They're caused by those powers and principalities in high places that struggle to gain
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dominion over us, as the Bible tells us. And our own familiar, pitiful experience confirms it.
It's called Temptation. Sometimes it reaches us from obvious outside sources. But it seems like, more often, it gets to us through the activity of some kind of spirit that has access to our own spirit. If we're like the Sadducees of old who are still around today and claim that there's no such thing as spiritual beings, no Holy Spirit, no evil spirit, no spirit of man, then there's nothing more to say. But if we're aware of the activity of our own spiritual life, and if we observe that those around us have a spiritual life, and if we've noticed how good and evil come like a flood on the earth or on an individual, then we'll have to admit that there exists a source of temptation outside of ourselves, in the same way that there's a source of strength and blessing outside of ourselves. We'll understand that 'we aren't struggling against flesh and blood, but with spiritual wickedness in high places.' We'll be even more diligent to educate ourselves about the laws and conditions of temptation, and we'll eagerly look for ways of escape.
Literature is full of stories about temptation being yielded to, struggled against or conquered. Sometimes temptation finds us ripe and ready to fall, and there's no struggle at all. This was the case with Tito Melema in Romola, sometimes there's a struggle, as was the case with Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, and sometimes there's victory, as in the story of Joseph in Genesis.
The Bible is where we find the most intimate accounts of temptation. We still wonder to this day how Peter, on a sudden temptation, could deny his Lord, and how Judas, after gradually collecting his anxious, impatient thoughts, could betray Him. We don't understand how the disciples,
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in a sudden panic of fear, could forsake Him and run away. When we consider falls like these, we ask ourselves the awful question, 'Lord, is it me?' 'Would I have done the same thing if I'd been in his place?' Even news about crimes and wrongdoing give us the same fear--if we'd been in the same situation, faced with the same temptation, we might have done the same thing. A sense of how inevitable temptation is, and how close sin is, hits us every now and then like a terror. It's good that we recognize that temptation is a fact of life. It's a fact that has to be faced. And we might as well recognize, too, that we'll most often be attacked where we're the weakest. We'll always be tempted in those sins that we have a tendency towards. It's good and a comfort to remember the assurance that, 'No temptation has overtaken you that isn't common to all people.' And it's good to know that, 'Along with the temptation, God will provide a way of escape so that you'll be able to bear it.' Also, 'Blessed is the person who endures temptation,' and, 'Resist the devil and he'll flee from you.'
If we want the key to the whole matter, we need to go to our master Jesus, who was 'tempted in all points just like we are, yet he didn't sin.' It's because He knows what's within people that He could say, 'See that you don't enter into temptation.' This is the secret of those heroes who spend their lives in conflict with circumstances rather than temptations: they don't even enter into temptation. All of the things that Jesus said come from his deep understanding of how man's mind works. He knew that, once an idea or imagining of such things as envy or resentment is even entertained and toyed with in the mind, it takes possession of us. We can't get rid of it, and we're rushed into
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some related action or speech before we even realize it. And this is the fine line between temptation and sin. Offensive ideas come to us from outside of ourselves, and that's not sin. But it's our fault if we open the gate to our thoughts and let the notion come into our mind. Even then, it's not too late to conquer in the end through the grace of Christ our Savior and our own conflict, tears and painful trial. But this kind of fight against temptation is a fearful ordeal to any Christian. This is a battlefield where it pays to run away and live to fight another day.
Fortunate are those who endure temptations from outside of themselves, who endure oppressive poverty without becoming hard-hearted or greedy, who endure unpleasant people without becoming bitter, who endure difficult circumstances without complaining, who remain patient when everything seems to be against them. These are the kinds of temptations that we can't escape from, and they're part of the education of a reliable spirit. But they can only be educational if we make an effort to resist the temptations that come from within us--the temptation to give in to sinful thoughts when we're facing difficult circumstances. Make no mistake, all sin and even all crime results from our thoughts. Words and actions are the fruit of the seeds that are the thoughts we receive and allow. For each one of us, our battle of life is continually repeating what seems like a trivial action: rejecting certain thoughts that come to us as soon as they appear. This is the way we keep our soul protected as if it's in a fortress. That's why our Master tells us to pray every day, 'Our Father in Heaven, don't lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for yours is the
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kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.' He is constantly aware of us, and He knows how evil thoughts flood the soul and darken the eye once they're admitted.
We have a Father who knows and cares. We have a Savior who saves his people from their sins. We aren't left alone to fend for ourselves. We have a King who governs us. His power supports us. Every little effort that we make to not enter temptation glorifies Him.
In the beginning stages, it's pretty easy to resist before we enter. The way we do that is by turning our eyes away from even looking at evil, whether it's evil in another person, or an evil suggestion in our own mind. This isn't done by reasoning with ourselves and talking ourselves through it. It's done simply by thinking of something else. It might be some other pleasant or interesting thing going on in our lives. We've been designed so that, with every temptation, we have an easy, natural, built-in way of escape. It's good for us to be aware of this because, when it comes to things of the spirit, God truly does help those who help themselves. If we pray, 'Lead us not into temptation,' and then don't bother to take the simple way of escape that God has already provided by thinking of something else, then it's as if we're asking God to treat us like pawns on a chessboard instead of as people with free will. People who are free to do what they will give honor to God by using their will to flee from temptation. They're taking the step of reaching out their hand for His saving help, instead of doing nothing.
Many lives are ruined by the thing that the church used to call a main Christian grace. A penitent person was a distressful figure in the early church. Penitent sinners were supposed to spend days, months, even entire lifetimes in self-mortification. When there are no church-sanctioned penitence routines, contrite people live their lives in remorse
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for sins they committed in their past or their present. All of us know of people who can't forgive themselves. They cry and make themselves miserable because they're guilty of some wrong word or action. They feel like their sorrowful gloom is what they owe God and man because of what they did.
And yet, these same people are often the very ones who regularly claim to believe in the forgiveness of sins. They don't understand that forgiveness means instant, immediate, complete restoration to enjoying God's favor. Forgiveness from Christians is just as instantaneous, or else it isn't really forgiveness at all. Once the single painful, sorrowful confession that 'I have sinned' is made, there are no more tears that need to be shed, no bad memories that need to be enshrined. From that moment on, we can hold our heads high as free people, no longer dragging the chain that prisoners wear. Yes, we repent. We turn away from sin, we don't enter into temptation, and we cling to the grace of our God. But then we restore. As the tax collector said, 'If I have stolen anything from anyone, I promise to restore him four times as much.' The repentant soul restores four times the love, gentleness and service to God and man. But that's because he's so happy, and the joy of his heart compels him. There's no room in his glad heart for proud, sullen tears and regrets. The father who ran to meet his returning prodigal son fell on his neck and received his son with honor and celebration. This image is too sweet for a man to have conceived of, but Jesus tells it with authority [implying that it's the true story of a real prodigal?] Let this amazing illustration of how God deals with us stay with us all the time to light up the dark places in our own lives.
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Sin, temptation and repentance all stem from some larger root principle. Why is it wrong to do wrong? And what is wrong, anyway? Throughout the ages, people have answered these questions in various ways. Some say that wrong means neglecting or harming our fellow man. Therefore, it's good to care for and consider others. Self-absorbed people say that they have the right to do whatever they want. If they feel like doing something, then it must be right, and if someone else hurts or offends them, then they whine and complain that it's wrong. Others are persuaded that Nature is always right, and, since greed, laziness, impurity, and selfishness come naturally, they must be acceptable. After all, 'it's only human nature.' While we're on the subject, I'll say again, it's a serious misrepresentation to blame anything that's vulgar, lazy or unworthy on human nature. Human nature is whatever we decide to make it. We know only too well that our nature is capable of corrupt behavior, but it's just as capable of nobility and generosity. But most people
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who talk about Nature being the standard are trying to justify the base side of human nature.
These attempts at analyzing so we can figure out the nature of what's truly right and wrong are really forms of self-deception.
Everyone knows that sin means transgressing the law. Every living soul is aware that there's a law. People might not be able to put it into words, and they often blunder and make wild mistakes in trying to interpret what the law is, but everyone recognizes that a law exists. Even the most ignorant savage is as aware of the existence of a law as the Psalmist who wrote, 'Your commandment is extremely extensive.' But a savage might be too ignorant and corrupt to recognize the beauty in the law or understand that its purpose is to bless us. His conscience is uneducated and has only a dim awareness of the law. He gropes to understand its meaning like a blind man groping in the dark.
A savage also recognizes that obedience to this mysterious law is due from him. He has a vague awareness that this law is everywhere, that--
His uneasiness troubles him. He tries to satisfy his troubled conscience with sacrifices. He tries to find answers to his unanswered questions of life with superstition, making his god a being who's just like him.
Compare this restless uneasiness of a soul living in darkness with the assured peace of the enlightened Christian conscience. A Christian is also aware of the law that's all around him, closer than the air he breathes. It defines how he treats everyone and everything. It arranges his affections and thoughts. Yet this law doesn't
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provoke him. He can agree with the Psalmist, 'How I love your law!' He's glad to do his share of work in the world. He knows that it's part of his duty in fulfilling the law, and he's happy to acknowledge his duty.
In the same way that planets obey their law by revolving around the sun, he revolves in the orbit of his life. His duty is his most profound joy. But that doesn't mean that he always succeeds in fulfilling the law that's inside his heart. He's just like the planet he lives on--constantly pulling away from his own law, but always recovering his orbit so that he ends up finishing his course.
The reason why seeing the law brings joy, and why fulfilling even a small bit of that law brings us such unspeakable happiness is that we recognize that the law expresses God's perfect will. It exists by itself and for itself and has no will of its own or desire or need. That's an intimidating thing to think about. It can seem unsettling and discourage our efforts because there's no comforting element of love in it, or reasonable conviction. But it's comforting and good to know that, behind everything, God is there. He wants all of His creatures in the world to do what's good and right. He enables all of us so that we can do what's right so that His law, which makes all things work together for good, is fulfilled. When we think about the great things in the world, our own lives don't seem so trivial and pathetic. Each of our lives is a necessary, integral part of the whole, and each life is ordered under His law, fulfills His will, and sings like the morning stars at being obedient.
Sometimes there's a possibility that a glittering star might veer off on an erratic course and break away into space to be quenched and dissipate into
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dark oblivion. Knowing that this possibility exists should make us even more fervent and determined to do our duty. We can't feel constrained by a straight-jacket when we say, 'I rejoice to do your will, my God. Yes, your law is in my heart.' And this spring of joyful obedience in our hearts helps us to get up and stay standing because it sustains every weak, halting step. When we pause for a rest, we're strengthened and encouraged. Although we know what pathetic creatures we are, the path we're following is the path of justice, and it shines brighter and brighter all the way to the day when all things will be perfect.
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It sometimes seems like human nature is as great a riddle as the Sphinx. The more we try to figure ourselves out, the more baffled we are. It's true, man is a puzzle, but that doesn't mean that 'leaving the puzzle alone' is a good idea. The baffling question of human nature needs to be on our minds all our lives. Human nature consists of our talents and gifts, and we need to answer to God for the way we used our talents.
Thus far, we've established that the Heart, with its affectionate love and justice, and the Intellect, with its reason and imagination, and even the Conscience itself, act pretty much like the other organs of the body--brains, lungs, heart, etc. If they get their proper nutrition, exercise, rest and air. then they'll be equipped and able to do their work by themselves. It hardly seems like it's us who's imagining, or loving, or whatever. All of us aren't consciously dominated by ideas, but every writer has experienced something that seems to write itself almost without his intention. Everyone knows how
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the affections act--how Love, as lord of the heart, plays all kinds of troublesome pranks with no accountability so that the poor person often has a miserable time. Blind Cupid playing mischievous tricks isn't just a cute fanciful image. It actually presents a fairly accurate picture of how Love acts if left to itself!
Even Conscience, in spite of the dignity and seriousness that we attach to it, can be as illogical and aggravating as any blind god if left to himself. We all know at least one person with a rigid conscience who's fussy about some trivial detail like packing tape, while totally neglecting real relationships and responsibilities.
And consider how passionate and intense the imagination can get when it's always feeding (usually on garbage), never doing any work, never getting enough rest, and never getting a breath of fresh air by stepping out into reality from time to time. A person who lets his imagination run away with him like a horse bolting away from its rider can get some very distorted views, twisted principles and strange behaviors. He might get involved with drugs or alcohol, or get hooked on trashy novels to stimulate his disillusioned mind, because he has to keep on going somehow. He doesn't know any other way to live. Such a person is like a man with a team of unbroken, wild horses, each wanting to go in a different direction and trying to drag the poor man along after it. What can such a person do? Who is able to get his affairs under control?
It is The Will, that power inside each of us, who saves Mansoul from this kind of anarchy. We don't know how, but the Will is able to manage the rest.
It's been said that the Will is 'the only practical faculty that man has.' We recognize the truth of this in our common speech. When something is done with the Will's consent, we call it voluntary. When something is done without the Will's consent, we say that it's involuntary. As we've already mentioned, people are able to reason, imagine, love, or make judgments
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without any involvement from the conscious Will at all. In fact, life has been made conveniently easy for us with society's conventional habits and the customary traditions of socio-economic groups. Many poor souls grow to adulthood and live into old age without ever calling on their Will to consciously choose between this or that. They think what everyone else thinks, do what everyone else is doing, feel what's expected, and never rely on their own true selves, which is where the Will is. It's easy enough to live this way, but people who do this are limited and cheated in every way. They haven't nourished or exercised or learned to control any of the abilities that God gave them. To these kinds of people, life is a series of events, some good, some bad, but they always happen. Without any deliberate purpose or resolution of their own, they can't possibly understand that these seemingly unrelated events are part of God's plan. As a result, their religion is reduced to popular sayings and superstitions.
This is the most common result of a Will-less life, distinguished by a weakening of abilities and lack of purpose. The only thing they can even conceive of is being like everyone else, doing what everyone else is doing. Even a patient in an insane asylum can reason with clever logic, feel valid emotions and act in good conscience (as Mr. Dick did, fighting valiantly against 'that head of Charles I' in David Copperfield) But he's totally lost because he has no Will-power to manage the members within his own heart and mind. It's the same with a young man who is his own worst enemy. He's swept off his feet by every stray suggestion that sounds fun or exciting.
It's good for us to consider what it would be like to live without our Will. Then we can decide how we want to live. Do we want an aimless, drifting life? Or do we want to take up the responsibility of living, and make deliberate choices of our Will?
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What about the person who's always trying to get his own way with either stormy tempers, manipulation, sneaky evasion or determined persistence? An obstinate or furious person is commonly said to have a strong will. A sneaky or manipulative person isn't as obvious, so it isn't as easy to label him. But the fact is, all four of these people might manage to get their own way without exerting any more of their Will than the casual person who lets things slide. When we abandon ourselves to greed, vanity, ambition or lust, we go on without any restraint from our Will, and we get what we want in blatant or devious ways, depending on our personality. Robber barons in the Middle Ages were violent, merciless, and insolent. Their actions were often the result of impulsive outbursts. Such men were supposedly strong willed. Examples are the Wild Boar of the Ardennes [from Sir Walter Scott's Quentin Durward], Charles of Burgundy [from Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein] and even England's own Richard the Lion-Hearted [from Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman]. These heroes of
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'strong will' have their good qualities--they're generous and unstinting in bestowing gifts, as quick to give as they are to take. They will always have devoted followers whose instinct is to loyally follow a leader. Those who get their way with more subtle, devious ways aren't as appealing. King John [Shakespeare] and Becky Sharp [from Thackeray's Vanity Fair] don't have any loyal followers. We tend to prefer someone like Joab to Achitopel, and we find Esau to be a more winning personality than Jacob.
With Esau and Jacob, we can easily compare a Man of Will to a willful creature. Apparently, the difference isn't that one pursues his desires in a forthright way with generosity, and the other sometimes uses sound logic to get his way, and sometimes uses clever tricks. No, the difference lies deeper.
A willful person is at the mercy of his appetites and the whims of his desires. Esau felt that he had to have the red stew, he had to hunt, he had to have a wife, or do whatever his desires compelled him to do at the moment. Compelling desire is what drives the scheming gambler, the closet alcoholic, the lazy soul, the person who's obsessed with reading novels, or anyone who thinks that life means nothing but pleasure. All of these people are only consistent about one thing, and they always need to have their way, but their way is like an elusive carrot that leads them every which way. Wherever they think they'll find gratification, there they'll go--whether it's gratification for their vanity, or gourmet tastes, or charming society, or ambition, or drive to be first. This is a willful person. He has no power to control which way his nature leads him because he has no goal except gratifying some physical desire, appetite or affection. J.M. Barrie's Sentimental Tommy is a good example of
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a willful person and worth analyzing. Tommy has always found a way to get what he set out for, and there isn't usually anything wrong with what he wants in and of itself. But Tommy is insincere. He does lots of generous things and he's a bit of a genius, but everything he does is motivated by the whims of his vanity. At all costs, he must impress everyone around him. He always gets his way--yet his life falls apart in the end because he's dominated by vanity instead of by a determined Will.
Jacob also often gets his way by subtle means, although every one of his deceitful tricks is punished. But he isn't seeking what he wants for its own sake. All of his whims come second to a higher priority. For him, that higher priority was establishing the kingdom that God had promised. He used both good and bad methods to realize his goal. His punishments were so severe that, at the end of his life, he complained, 'The days of my life have been few and evil.' Yet he always worked steadily with a will towards a goal outside of himself.
Lord Beaconsfield's career is an interesting study. It shows two phases of willfulness and Will. In the beginning, all he has is the rather dazzling willfulness of ambition that young men often have. He's determined to succeed, and determined to make himself heard in the House, and he does it. But that's the end of it, there's nothing more, and the country draws the conclusion that he's driven by impulsive whims. But after a while, his Will manifests itself, and he develops the Will of a great politician. His personal desires take a back seat or disappear in the presence of the ruling Will. And so he becomes a man suited to serve his country. We don't have any record in history that Wellington ever had a time in his life when he was willful. He always had an iron will. That iron will didn't just keep those under him in line, it also kept any instability of his own body or spirit in line. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of
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Germany also had this kind of steadfast will that was focused on accomplishing an end goal
But it's possible to awe the world even without that kind of strong, determined Will. Napoleon, for example, came upon Europe like a bad omen, but he was driven along the path of least resistance by his nature, which was made of genius, great courage, conceit and excessive ambition. Yet he never achieved the status that men do when they aim for a goal that's outside of themselves. Napoleon never exerted any determined will on anything outside of himself. He was wildly generous, like a child. He was also fretful and stubborn, like a child. He must have had a child's instability, too. How else could he have endured the shame of fleeing from Russia ahead of his troops?
We can't assume that success in life results from a resolved Will. A person is as strong as his Will. Many people have become rich or famous without ever exerting any force of Will because fame and fortune came as a result of their easy nature and the force of their whims, while others who have exercised their Will faithfully live in obscurity, unknown to the world. Yet it's these people who have a constant Will who are of value to the world, and who should be recognized for the treasure they are.
There's a difference between rich, successful men. Some set out to make money, and others, such as certain merchants, manufacturers, shopkeepers and lots of others, fell into wealth and success almost by accident. They didn't set out to be rich and successful, they were simply doing their duty and keeping focused on some greater goal outside of themselves. These are the kind of people that are recognized and valued for their character.
There's nothing likeable about Redgauntlet [by Sir Walter Scott], but he gains our sympathy because he was a man
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with a strong Will. He was able to look beyond himself and build his life on a great purpose. Sir Walter Scott, as a great novelist, has lots of examples of this kind of person. He had some legal sense that made him accurate at discerning character. His books may have some errors in historical details, but not as many as we might think. A man who could deal with the case of 'Poor Peter Peebles' [Redgauntlet] knew how to sift through documentary evidence. Earlier, I quoted passages from his characters William de la Marck and Charles of Burgundy. King Louis XI. [Quentin Durward] might have been mean and unappealing, but at least he was concerned about matters outside of himself, even if he was only a little concerned about them. And we get a great study of Will and Willfulness in the Crusader's camp in The Talisman! Each of the princes who was there was concerned about the stubborn pursuit of his own self-interests, each fighting for his own control. Meanwhile, Saladin looked on with a noble mind and generous heart because he was a man with a determined Will focused on a goal that was more than himself. I can't think of a better moral education than reading Sir Walter Scott and Shakespeare. Scott is easier and more obvious, but both of them recognize that a man is only as much as his Will. As far as Shakespeare, I think the day will come when universities will have a Shakespeare wing, not dedicated to its literary value, but focused on ethology--the study of character.
Both Shakespeare and Scott used what we might think of as a dividing line. On one side they put willful, wayward, weak and forceful people. On the other side were people who had a resolved Will.
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Faust, Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Edward Waverley, Charles II., King John, Marlborough, and all kinds of unlikely people are on the side where Will isn't in command. On the other side are also unlikely people--Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, Laud, Mahomet, Henry V. of England, and Henry IV. of France. Mary Queen of England and Mary Queen of Scots fall to either side of the line.
If I tried to make even a partial list of characters who illustrate this, it would cover too much history and literature. But I'll repeat that this kind of study is what will make our reading beneficial. It will help us get to know people and prepare us better for life. Modern psychological novels are hardly ever useful as 'life examples or for teaching manners.' They have too much of a tendency to accept people as they are, as if they can't help what they are. They avoid the issue of Will and instead analyze thousands of little traits manifested by characters with or without their will. Modern novels try to catch characters and put them under a fishbowl for observation.
A man in the midst of the ranks of soldiers can't drill his company. In the same way, the restless citizens of Mansoul can't be controlled by someone down on their level. They need a Will who's at the front, aiming for something outside of itself. From the front, it's easier to see where Mansoul is going and keep its members in order.
At this very moment (1904), we Britons are in the midst of a large-scale object lesson being presented to us by Japan, an extraordinarily strong-willed nation. Yes, nations can have determined Wills, too, not just individuals. It seems like every individual in Japan has an impersonal goal. He has a resolved Will to serve his country with every fiber of his being,
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so that, in comparison, his own preferences, whims, desires and rewards don't matter a bit. The Japanese seem to show with the way they sacrifice for their country with their goal, method, planning, every reasonable device, and unlimited skill that 'he who loses his life will save it.'
This isn't the first time that the Japanese have been an example of will-power that's exemplary in history. Thirty years ago [1868?] they worked out a revolution unlike any the world had seen before. The people didn't rise up with weapons and force their rulers to step down. The rulers [shoguns?] maintained the country and their authority like feudal princes. They realized on their own that the people couldn't progress and keep up with the world under this kind of feudal rule, so they took it upon themselves to cease ruling and owning land. They chose to leave their wealth and dignity and become ordinary citizens. They even served as soldiers in the army and workers in the police force. They 'lost their life' as superior rulers to 'save it' in helping revive their country.
In contrast, their neighbor empire, China, is an odd demonstration of chaos and useless labor. Yet China also has taste, literature, cleverness, its own art, morals that are probably better than we suppose, the honor of a long, long history. And yet, even with all of this, China still acts like a cranky, obstinate, temperamental child with the rest of the world. Why? We westerners might be quick to blame race and color, but maybe recent events will teach us better. Great things have come from the eastern world in the past. Perhaps more great things are still to come in the future.
The truth is probably that China and Japan are each on different sides of that imaginary line.
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Meanwhile, we western nations have weakened ourselves by falling for a philosophy whose first principle is that, under no circumstances, should we lose our life. Publicly, we claim that our first priority is whatever will mean the greatest happiness for the most people. Individually, comfort at any cost is what we desire. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, most of us follow the rule of 'Every man for himself.'
We don't need to be alarmed or fear the deterioration of our nation or anything like that, and we don't need to compare ourselves unfavorably to any other nation. The fault is in the teaching we've allowed and spread. This teaching urges people to choose the path of least resistance to their natures.
But if we chose a goal outside of ourselves, we'd be as capable of great things as any nation, past or present. If all we could manage to set our sights on was nothing more than Skepsey's cry, like a cuckoo, of 'England' [One of Our Conquerors by George Meredith], then we'd be restored and able to resolve our Will again. That's only possible when we're removed from focusing on ourselves. We'll be capable and effective in doing this, according to how much we resolve our Will.
Jesus's teaching seems to have been intended to awaken the Jews from the laziness of their national superstitions and their individual goals. He wanted to give them the power to Will. After all, it's only when a man Wills that he's really a man in the full sense. 'What do you want Me to do to you?' 'Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have liked to gather your children together in the same way that a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you wouldn't let me!'
'If any man wills to do God's will, then he'll understand where the doctrine is from.' [John 7:17]
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Maybe what we've said about the Will makes it sound like a child's understanding of 'being good, and our imaginary line might seem like all the good people should be on one side, and all the bad people on the other. But a man who has a resolved Will might have mixed motives and use both ethical and unethical methods to achieve his goal. Louis XI., for example, had France in mind in everything he did. He was loyal to his own concept of his role as king. But he was not a good man. He used dishonorable methods, and his immediate motives were unworthy and inferior. Anarchists and rebels might conceive of a goal outside of themselves and steadfastly stay focused on that goal until it's accomplished. They might use immoral and even illegal methods, but you can't say that such a person ha a weak Will. There are even people whose sole purpose in life is to advance some doctrine designed to eliminate social restraints and moral convictions. They deliberately want to harm society, but they call it a good thing. They say that the freedom to do whatever we want is the highest good for mankind. And this is the goal they work towards with such sacrificial enthusiasm. Their very focus on a goal outside of themselves is what
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convinces so many people to follow them. When people confuse Will with virtue, they're easy to convert to any and every radical form of 'free-thinking.'
That's why it's good for us to know that, even though volatile, obstinate people aren't ruled by Will but by the impulsive passions of their own desires, it's still possible to have a steady, resolved Will, but to use it for an unworthy or even evil goal. It's even possible to have a good goal in mind, but to achieve that goal with unworthy methods. Rebecca's only wish was for God's will to be done. In fact, she determined to bring it about herself. She would make sure that the younger chosen son would be the one to inherit the blessing, just as God had promised. And she set herself to scheming in order to bring about what she thought was good. She's an example for every age, especially our own!
The Lord calls a simple, amended Will 'the single eye,' and it seems to be the one thing we need if we're going to live right and be prepared to serve.
It might seem like 'Will' means the same thing as an 'Ideal' because an ideal, whether good or bad, is the motivating power that determines what we do. This concept sounds familiar to us because most of us have an ideal hidden somewhere within ourselves, even if our ideal is only 'a decent guy' or 'a nice girl.' We've seen for ourselves how much influence the Bushido has in Japan. That seems to be their ideal of chivalry. But it isn't really the ideal that's so effective. It's the force of Will-power. We all know that cherishing sentimental fantasy ideals, no matter how beautiful they might be, is a source of weakness. And we know that some people practically worship great ideals. They enjoy
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experiencing exquisite emotions surrounded by an elegant location as they reflect and idealize the life of St Francis. Self-culture is considered an acceptable ideal, but when we understand that self-culture is centered in Self with no goal beyond that, then we see the gentle youth holding a lily with his head posed to the side a bit differently. That youth isn't a man of Will as we thought, because the first condition of Will, whether good or bad, is that it has to be focused on something outside of itself. Browning asks an interesting question--Is it better to have resolved Will for the wrong goal and accomplish it, or to persist in a steady course of wrongly wanting, thinking and feeling, but never having the Will to follow through and put it into action? Most people who read The Statue and the Bust will agree with Browning that working for the wrong thing but failing because of a lack of Will, is just as bad as accomplishing the wrong thing. If the Will can't be called good, then it should at least be called virtue in the linguistic sense of the word. It's the same as manliness.
Another thing to be aware of is that even a constant Will can have times of ebb and flow. Later, we'll discuss one of the secrets of living--how to ride through the tide of our failures when our Will-power slips.
We've already said that one of the secrets to the art of living is being able to pass tempting side trails and keep moving straight forward. A traveler who knows this art will be able to escape many dangers. I'll invite you to consider the way the Will works later.
Not many subjects are more confusing and vague than the subject of the Will. But it's everyone's responsibility to understand a little bit about how the Will that leads us acts. Little by little, we'll see that the Will isn't just an illusion, like a will-o'the-wisp leading to destruction. It's a real power working in cooperation with the other powers in Mansoul. It has its own job description and is bound to keep its own rules.
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So far we have seen that, in the same way that ruling well distinguishes a king, the Will distinguishes the quality of a person. A king isn't a king unless he rules, and a man isn't a man unless he resolves his Will.
We've also seen that we have the choice whether or not to use our Will. It's even possible to go through an entire lifetime without ever using our Will. If everything we do or think, in spite of ourselves, is subject to the impulses of our nature, then we're not using our Will. Will itself isn't good or bad, but a constant Will needs to have some goal outside of itself, and that goal can be good or bad. The Will has times when it's stronger than at other times. During the Will's weak times is when we're in the most danger.
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It's pretty easy to picture the Will standing in front of Mansoul's forces saying 'Go' to one of them, 'Come' to another one, and 'Do this,' and he does it. The Will has to listen to propositions all around it in the form of 'the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life.' We've seen how every demon of Mansoul tries to get the Prime Minister's attention [See Self-Knowledge, Book I of volume 4]. Each one tries to persuade the Prime Minister that he alone, all by himself, can provide everything that the government wants. Whether it's the greed of eating too much, or ruthless ambition which has been called 'the final disease of noble minds,' every one of the forces in Mansoul will take over if it's allowed to, and will become an instrument of misrule. But have courage, lord Will! Then all the forces will fall into line and obey the word of command.
We've already seen how a firm Reason, an enlightened Imagination, well-controlled Affections and an educated Conscience are always ready to offer counsel every time the Will wants to act.
It takes the whole person to Will. A person can only Will as fairly and
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wisely as his abilities are trained and educated. It's good to know this, and to be absolutely persuaded that we can't afford to let any of our members remain ignorant or untrained. We dare not entertain the notion that whichever members are capable can be counted on to do the best thing.
There's more to living than events of one day melding into the next. We need to understand that so we can exercise our conscious Will. 'Why is it that you won't understand?' is what the Lord asked the Jews. They would only see the obvious. They wouldn't reflect or even try to interpret the signs of the times. That's the way most of us are: we won't understand. When we're young, we think there's nothing particular in our lives to resolve our Will about, but that there will be when we're older and out in the world. But it's the same truth: defining moments aren't confined to any specific period of our lives. They come in the form of the little matters we deal with in our routine day. We need to be aware of this. The great sphere of influence for our Will is within us. Our priority in life should be to make sure we're prepared. The extent in which we're prepared will determine which occasions come our way and how we'll be used. Will's mission isn't to try to control the outside world, but to keep Mansoul from wasting its resources and to keep every province in Mansoul well-managed.
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As we've seen, the Kingdom of Mansoul only has one power that's totally at its disposal, a free agent who can do whatever he wants, and that one power is the Will. Yet the only thing that the Will really does is to make one choice over another. In everything we do every day of our lives, the command to 'Choose this day' comes before us. The Will's job is to make that choice.
We're usually game about making choices between things, although there are some people who shirk even that responsibility. They try on two dresses and can't decide between them. In fact, the success of advertising rests on the fact that we prefer to let somebody else, even if it's the salesperson, make up our minds for us. There's a clever story about a girl who couldn't decide between two guys. So one of them made it easy for her by falsifying his death! Now the girl no longer had to feel pressured about making a choice.
Lots of people minimize their effort in life by following fashion when it comes to clothes, decorating, books, entertainment, art and even who they'll have as friends.
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We're all glad to have this kind of help because one choice is as good as another in some of life's trivial issues. But fashion itself is a fluctuating thing, and sometimes we can't avoid having to make a choice. The Joneses put off making a decision until the last minute. They asked for opinions from friends and consulted travel guide books and considered many options. But the more information they got, the more difficult it became to make a decision about where to spend their summer vacation. So they went to the train station and trusted to last-minute inspiration. But, as it turned out, Margate ended up being the decision!
The inability to make a decision seems to be a growing trend in England, or maybe all over the world. Perhaps that's because we're hesitant about making a choice for ourselves, even though we're enthusiastic about pressuring others. We know which furniture is right for them, which career, what they should like, who they should hang out with--and we pressure them into what we think is for their own good. Perhaps it's true that one dress is more flattering, or that a person is suited for a particular career. But every time we make a choice for someone else, we do them an injury. We've taken away an opportunity for them to fulfill their main priority in life, which is making choices.
We harm ourselves even more when we dress ourselves the way someone else says we should, or adopt someone else's opinions, because every time we give up the opportunity to make our own choice with our own Will, we're acting more like a machine than a person. We aren't fulfilling our purpose in life any better than artificial plants used in tacky decorations. Any person who isn't continually making conscious choices on the basis of a balanced Will is like a puppet, pulled by the strings of other people's opinions.
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But you might ask, 'What about obedience, then? We owe obedience first to our parents, then to our government and church, and always to God's will. If a person is only truly an independent being when he's making conscious choices, then doesn't obedience destroy personality?' No. On the contrary, obedience is the ultimate test and sustainer of our personality, but only if the obedience is by free choice. Since making a decision takes so much mental effort, children should be saved the labor by being trained to have a habit of obedience. Every gallant boy and noble girl has learned to choose to obey their parents, pastor, and Master, and anyone else in authority over them. This kind of obedience is the essence of chivalry, and chivalry is the exact opposite attitude of mind as self-seeking. A chivalrous person is a person of constant Will, because, as we've already seen, the Will can't be steadily maintained merely for personal gain. But obedience must be given simply because it's the right thing to do.
You might think that life will become too much of an effort if every one of our choices matters, and every decision has to be made first-hand. But I'm reminded of a fable about a clock pendulum that went on strike and caused the clock to stop because it had counted how many ticks it would have to give every day, in a year, and in many years. The number of ticks was overwhelming, so the pendulum stopped. The clock face asked what was going on and the pendulum told him the amount of ticks he would have to make. The clock face said, 'Indulge me by ticking just once.' And the pendulum did. 'Was that difficult?' 'No, not at all. But I'm not complaining about one single tick. I'm complaining about millions of ticks.' The clock face said, 'But you're only required to give one tick at a time, and there's always a second of time for you to tick in.' And it's the same way with our Will.
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Yes, there are lots of decisions to be made, but they come one at a time, and there's always time provided to make the choice.
Still, it's good to know what it is we're choosing between. Things are only symbols representing ideas. Several times a day, we'll find that two ideas are before us and we'll have to make a decision based on reasonable grounds, and on what's right. The specific things may not matter much in themselves, but our choice matters. Every time we exercise our conscious Will, our personality grows stronger. But every time we shirk an opportunity to decide for ourselves, we get weaker.
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We've determined that the Will's job is to choose--not primarily between things, people, and courses of action, but between the two ideas that these things represent. Every choice we make implies a rejection of one or many ideas represented by that choice. Even if we allow our Will to rest passively, things and issues will still continue to come before us, but we'll be allowing instead of making a conscious choice. A suggestion from the outside that appeals to our nature will decide for us. There might not seem to be much difference between the two paths, but most ruined lives and broken families are the result of settling for making allowances instead of doing the duty of making conscious choices with the Will.
I don't mean that a person has to go through the effort of making a decision about every little thing. A man shopping for a suit may have already made a choice. He decided a long time ago that the class of people he mingles with have good taste and common sense, and what they tend to wear is a sufficient guide when it comes to clothes. He remembers what Lord Chesterfield said, so he won't be the first person to adopt a certain trend, and he won't be the last person to discard it. Those parameters provide a limit to his options, and the available selection of suits sees to the rest. But, you might protest, he hasn't made any conscious choice at all!
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Yes, he has. With good sense, he modestly chose to follow the lead of the other men in his social circle.
But another young man who is more pretentious comes to look for a suit. The salesperson shows him the latest arrival, a style that will be all the rage in a few months. He asks lots of questions, deliberates for a long time, and finally allows the salesperson to say, 'It's just perfect for you! Mr. Foley bought the very same suit just last week.' And that does it. The trendy new suit is paid for, bagged up and carried home. The young man is satisfied that he's made his choice. But he hasn't. The salesperson has taken advantage of his vanity, and the man's purchase was really an allowance he made, not a real choice. He acted just like Malvolio after all. Another man also goes looking for a suit. The salesperson measures him in more ways than one. The man isn't frivolously vain, but he's proud. He won't be pressured by fashion to wear the latest thing. He considers himself above that sort of shallowness. 'I never wear that,' he says and talks about what he 'prefers.' The salesperson humors him, and his final purchase is also a matter of allowance instead of conscious choice.
Still another man is so conceited that he defies convention and likes to startle the world by making unexpected choices, wearing checkered jackets when everyone else is wearing stripes. He prides himself on being an independent thinker. And yet he's merely obeying the dictates of the conceit he formed about himself. His bold and daring fashion purchases come from allowances, not real choice. We won't follow a woman in the mall shopping for a dress--the considerations would be far too complicated! But even in her case, the final purchase either comes from a deliberate choice based on reasoned principles that determine the boundaries of style and cost, or from allowance, perhaps the allure of a dress on a display model, or hints from a saleswoman about what's stylish and what's flattering.
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Once we figure out our principles about these kinds of matters, the individual occasions take care of themselves. Making a conscious choice implies some previous experience with judgment and conscience, some knowledge of the subject, and, usually, a little taste and imagination. We don't pick out a particular dress because we resolve our Will to buy it, that would be extreme. It's that our Will is acting on information and previous reflection. The question of a lady shopping for a dress is just a side-issue, but it's still worth considering. Unfortunately, the shopping scene at the mall is too familiar. It also stresses and discourages the shopper as well as the salespeople she deals with.
The notion that we're supposed to get the best there is at the cheapest price is a source of wasted time, needless spending and stress. Scrutinizing sales flyers, driving from one store to the next, calling around town collecting prices on items and other offenses could be avoided if we determined to let certain principles guide our actions. One such principle might be that, instead of pursuing the best at the lowest cost, we'll be satisfied to have what meets our needs at the price we can afford.
The mad hunt for the best, the most impressive, and the cheapest isn't limited only to clothes, accessories, household items and furnishings. We're just as likely to chase after opinions and ideas in the same restless, uncertain way. When we dash off to some sale, we're deceiving ourselves with the silly notion that we're going to get something at a 'bargain,' for less than it's actually worth. yet, all this time, it's ideas that we're really chasing.
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It's good to keep in mind that in all of the many relationships of life, whether it's our books, our friends, our politics, or our religion, the one action that our Will is capable of, the act of choosing, always needs to be exercised in a conscious choice of one idea over another. It isn't that ideas symbolize things, but that things symbolize ideas. We need to analyze the deeper significance and ask ourselves what we're really after when we allow this or that, choosing one thing over another. Are we looking for the most novel, or the cheapest in morals and religion? Are we picking up our concepts from the latest magazines, or small talk with acquaintances? Those are easy to come by, but, in the end, will prove to be a poor bargain. That's merely sacrificing the one thing that makes us valuable--our individuality--for something that's worthless. Our personality, which is distinguished by our deliberate resolve of the Will, is wasted, not by over-use, but by mis-use, in proportion to our lack of exercising it. We need to base our opinions on widely varied reading, thoughtful reflection, conscience and sound judgment, even if we're only forming an opinion on a novel or a sermon. If we're considering how to spend our day, then we also need to consider our principles.
is a general principle. An action is only excellent if it's reaching for a principle that's greater than itself. Whatever ideas we allow into our minds will become our opinions. The opinions we act on become our principles. Whatever opinions and principles we hold are who we are, they define our character and make up the part of ourselves that we're responsible for.
There's just one idea that's truly ours to freely decide, one consummate choice of the Will that's available for all of us to decide. We're obligated to wait for circumstances and opportunities to come our way, but those who put off making that one big decision
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will find that they aren't ready when circumstances or opportunity do come to them. What is that one resolve of the Will, that one choice of life that we all have to decide on? Whether or not to make our particular Mansoul--that is, our own self--ready for service using the tools of knowledge, love and deliberate effort. We can determine to do that much, but the opportunities that come or don't come our way aren't our responsibility any more than a soldier can help whether he gets guard duty, or is sent to the front lines.
The four kinds of behavior we're going to look at now aren't pretty. We have some kind of instinct--maybe a true instinct--that makes all words that have 'self' in them seem distasteful. When a goal of self-improvement is presented as something we should strive for, we shrug it off and say, 'What's the use?' and even our Will winces. It refuses to be swayed to do anything for long that comes from self-centered motives. Yes, it's true that many self-originated motives stemming from vanity and pride such as self-esteem and self-respect can prompt us to action, but that prompting isn't against our Will, it's without it. Even self-discipline, which is rightly encouraged from our earliest childhood, and self-control, can be practiced and done well merely for the sake of our prized Self, because we believe that serenity will be rewarded, that self-esteem makes us feel good and that self-satisfaction makes us happy. This kind of moral self-improvement pays. So then, Self feels justified in making such improvements. They even make the lives of everyone around us more comfortable. They result in peace and pleasant relationships.
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But I'm not so sure. Moral self-improvement that's only done for its own sake can tend to make a person oddly detached. They lose some sense of spontaneity and develop a hint of being on a higher level than everyone else, curbing the natural sympathy that most people have. In fact, that sympathy is the only real gift we have for each other. Any obsessive absorption has this effect. Nobody expects much from a person newly in love, or a poet, or a student studying for mid-terms. But at least the person in love is only going through a phase, and the student's mid-terms will be over soon. The poet may be obsessed, but, if he's a good poet, at least his work benefits the world. But if a person is absorbed with himself, there's no benefit except to himself. That was the only goal. People don't usually like to be helped by those who seem to live on a superior level. Even Jesus came down to reach us at our own level. He was 'tempted in all points, just like we are.'
I remember once at a large party, I met a woman who confused me. She was impressive-looking and pretty and very friendly. Whatever was going on at the party--acting, reciting, games, chatter--she was leading it, and doing better at it than anyone else. She was nice, too. When there was any kind of problem or someone got hurt, she was right there to help. She intrigued me because, even though so many things about her were charming, she had a certain distance that was offensive. I wondered if she had some kind of history that made her that way, but nobody seemed to know much about her. Finally, her kind wish revealed the reason for her aloofness. If a person was to stretch out in bed and say, 'I'm very happy, there's nothing wrong with me,' for a certain amount of time every day, they would have perfect peace of body and mind.
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Then I saw what it was that made this woman so out of touch with those around her. She was involved in her own personal cult, a cult that revolved around her own well-being. In spite of her many kindnesses, that seemed to be like a wall surrounded by broken glass to everyone else--we couldn't approach her. Even though she performed the various actions I mentioned, and others, too, it made no difference to everyone else.
It's a wonderful thing to have self-discipline in our appetites, self-control about expressing our passions and emotions, self-command of our temper, and self-denial to be able to do without the things we really want. But there's an even better way.
When the Will focuses on something outside of itself that's greater than the self, the appetites cease being so urgent, the emotions aren't so overpowering, and the temper isn't so rebellious (except for quick, impulsive instants that are regretted and recovered). As far as self-denial, love doesn't do without the things it really wants; it isn't even aware of personal wants. A mother feeding her child the last crust of bread, or dressing it in the last rags available, isn't denying herself. She's loving. We probably do more harm than good to ourselves and others by exercising what we think of as self-denial. 'I don't want you saving your dirty soul on me,' said one Irish woman to a visitor to her area. What she said expressed a law of life: it isn't possible to be good to others, or even good to ourselves, just for the sake of being good. Love and serving in love are the only things that count.
If the Will is provided with something outside of itself to focus on, it will
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be eager to serve, even when the service is as difficult as controlling its own forces of Mansoul. The failures in self-discipline, self-control, and self-denial that plague us and that we recognize as sin by the very misery they cause to us and others, and the way they put a wall between our heart and others, aren't overcome in a grand, monumental one-time heroic act. It takes many deliberate efforts of the Will. It's not a matter of striving to manage ourselves better. It takes something outside of ourselves to make us forget ourselves, and a certain valiant effort of the Will. That's the way to cure the faults that frustrate us.
But someone might say, Hasn't Jesus commanded us to deny ourselves? Yes, but He wants the kind of self-denial that comes from a disciple who has so much love for his Master that he no longer focuses on himself--as if he has no Self.
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I've tried to demonstrate how the Will is moved to action by the touch of an inspiring thought. It does sometimes work through vanity or greed or some other lesser motive, but when it does, it's more like a supporting actor. Natural tendencies are strong enough to accomplish their goal without any effort of the Will. All it takes is making allowances, it doesn't require any effort of deliberate decision. And yet, every day brings many tiresome little decisions, and it seems like overkill to bring in the strong power of the Will for every one of them, as if a steam hammer was being brought in to crack a nut open. So, instead of making a deliberate decision, we question ourselves, 'What will Mrs. Jones say?' 'I wonder which side Holford will take,' and so on. We try to avoid the effort of making decisions by imaging what others would do. This is a burdensome process because we know so many people and their decisions are so varied. Even if we rely on the judgment of one person as our guide, we're still not confident because circumstances are never exactly the same for two different people. We're forced to think for ourselves. And there are so many little considerations pressing in on us that we start to feel harried like a person who's spent all day at the mall and finally decides on the last thing he sees only because it's right in from of him and he's tired.
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Indecision might be a symptom of our age, and it's not necessarily a bad sign. It could just be the result of having so much more information, opinions, practices, and different principles to choose from. Sir Richard de Coverley might be like our patron saint, to be invoked on all occasions. He said there's so much sense on both sides that it's impossible to make up our minds. So finally we just pick any old thing blindly and, as a result, find ourselves in a place we never meant to be.
We admire this mindset in ourselves and call it Tolerance. It's a sort of creed that can summed up this way: 'There's a certain amount of good in everything and anybody, and a certain amount of bad in everything and anybody. Nothing or nobody is better than anyone or anything else, so one choice is as good as another.' And that results in, 'What difference does it make?' And that attitude prevails about going to church, or bothering to vote, or troubling about political issues, or bringing truth to the ignorant. 'What is truth,' as Pilate jested, and we lift our eyebrows and repeat, 'Every person's principles and opinions are undoubtedly what's best for him, and why should we interfere? We have to worry about our own affairs!'
Even when it comes to our own affairs, many people don't take much trouble. Some people rely on 'luck,' and some people rely on 'providence' to make all of their important decisions. This is the kind of vague, indistinct thinking that goes on in many people's minds these days. They wear themselves out with trivial decisions while walking blindfolded into decisions that really matter.
But someone might say, doesn't Providence decide the boundaries of where we live, and guide us in what we do? This is a blessing and restful truth that gives every Christian
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soul a sense of peace, but Providence isn't supposed to save us from the effort of making our own decisions. It's the decision-making process that shapes our character. The Father who brings up His children is in heaven. In the same way that wise parents make sure that their children get enough exercise, we can safely assume that Providence strengthens people by giving each of them some opportunities to expend their own effort, especially the effort of decision. The Will grows strong when it expends effort, and the Will defines the person's character.
There's a charming picture by Ludwig Richter called Unser Vater that illustrates 'Give us this day our daily bread.' A mother is spoon feeding two precious chubby babies who are sitting before her with their mouths open. Behind them, their big brother has a slice of German black bread, a sower is sowing in the next field, and a bird follows him to eat some of the seed. This is a great picture of how Providence works. The sower sows, the mother feeds, and God gives the increase. But nobody is sitting around waiting for a hand-out. They're working with open eyes and busy hands, and the good life that results comes along the lines of their own effort.
Making decisions is part of the work we're meant to do, along with the 'sweat of our brow by which we earn our daily bread.' But decision-making shouldn't cause worry, stress, anxiety and fatigue over such things as buying a yard of ribbon, or decorating a house, or choosing a career. If it is, then we're on the wrong track--our Will is negligent and we're being torn to pieces by conflicting desires and affections.
The decisions that the Will makes are always simple because, for better or worse, they have an end goal focused on something outside of
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the Self. We've seen how no part of us operates in isolation. All our lives, the Will has been busy getting input from the Imagination, Reason, Conscience, and the Affections. Little by little, it's been forming those major decisions that are the foundation for what we do, which we call Principles, and the major decisions that are foundational to what we think, which are called Opinions. Once formed, our principles and opinions are always ready to serve in big or little occasions. Our job is to make sure that we aren't distracted by the many different aspects of Self. Then our decisions will be prompt and final. We won't be anxious, second guessing whether we made a mistake, or if we should have chosen something else instead.
If we've done the best we could do with all we had within us, and added prayer if there was still any uncertainty, then we can rest as assured as the sower that Providence is on our side, although there are no guarantees how rich or poor the immediate harvest will be. In either case, we benefit because we grow with each decision we make so that there's more strength of character within us for the next time of action. So, we can go on our way with that much more strength and peace.
This isn't an easy way to a quiet life, but in all work there's some gain. Without work, there's no gain in either heart matters or material things.
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A man was strolling along the shore in the south lake with his wife, who was an invalid. He noticed a greater black-backed gull that had fallen dead on the sand. Other sea things caught his interest, and before long, he had begun an impressive collection of sea artifacts. His collection continued to grow, and his knowledge increased along with it. Finally he had such a large collection and he had it arranged so neatly, that the idea of opening a big county museum came to him. He loved the idea and committed himself to that project. Any obstacles in his way merely strengthened his resolve to face all the long hours of collecting and classifying.
This is the way the mental process works in all people who accomplish things. First, something attracts their attention: the man walking along the shore might not have considered the dead bird an idea, but what captured his attention was an idea all the same. Perhaps the idea was aroused and piqued by his interest and admiration in the delicate beauty of the bird's feathers when seen up close.
Then came the obsession of the mind on natural objects from the sea, which led to the
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intent to learn more about them. The intention might have been a bit vague and general, but it was strong enough to motivate him to do something about it. He found more things, and did more research. Then the intention became more definite. He had a goal in mind that he was determined to carry out--a purpose. And, in the face of difficulties, that grew into strong resolution.
Perhaps another man read a book about Francis Drake as a boy. From that, he got a certain sense of spaciousness, and of the kind of adventure that risks everything for love of queen and country. Although Drake, as a hero, isn't always admirable for his goodness, his manly devotion to a cause appeals to the boy. He finds that he feels perfectly at home in 'the spacious days of great Queen Elizabeth,' and that's the kind of reading he enjoys for many years. He learns about the Elizabethan dramatists, politicians, seamen, and poets. His thoughts begin to be colored by his reading. There's a certain largeness in his opinions and the way he acts that has an uplifting effect on those around him. He helps them to see issues from a perspective other than their own personal or traditional way. He himself may not have taken up any greater adventure than that of a doctor or businessman, but he brings a breeze of adventure with him, and his friends are all the better for it. One of his sons joins the navy, one is stationed in India, and the third is in South Africa, all of them carrying the spacious thoughts and impersonal goals that they got from their father. The man himself seems to be left at the birth of the Elizabethan thought that first captivated him when he read the book about Drake. The engaging of his mind and intention came with the steady pursuit of reading Elizabethan
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literature. It's not as easy to follow the stages of purpose and resolution, but they are there. That's evident because the fruit of that first thought, like a seed, grew and perfected itself in his mind, and it continued to bear fruit in the lives of his sons.
If the idea that struck him had come from the narrow, self-involved days of Queen Anne, he might have become a connoisseur collector of Chelsea teapots and Chippendale tables. He would still have influenced his friends since we can't help having an influence on those around us, but his influence would have been in the small graces of life rather than in the larger issues.
The whole issue of influence is very interesting. The old artists painted saints with a halo, an aura of glory emanating from them, and that visual seems to illustrate what's true for all of us. Each of us moves around and lives within the radiance of our own personality. This emanation of our personality influences everyone we come in contact with. We might say that generosity emanates from a generous person, and unkindness emanates from a mean person. Those who come in contact with the generous person pick up some of his generosity, and the hostility of the mean person rubs off on those he comes in contact with.
We can't help this kind of influence. We're not even conscious that we're affecting people this way, it's just our nature, who we are. We shouldn't try to manipulate the natural way we influence others. At the same time, we have no right to deliberately attempt to influence others.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't give and receive correction, advice, or instructions when needed. But that's not the same as influence, because those things are straightforward and sincere. The other person is fully aware of what's going on. Our job is to be the best we can be, and
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then to let our influence take care of itself. And we should be careful not to allow ourselves to be in a position where we're being influenced and compromised by an unworthy person.
None of us can totally insulate ourselves from the influences of the people we associate with. But, in both books and people, we can seek out the best, most elevating influences. We all know of somebody whose company makes us a better person, even if the only thing we talk about is fishing or scrapbooking. I doubt that anyone is helped by legalistic pious talk, what some people call 'holier-than-thou,' but everyone is uplifted and better after coming in contact with a sweet, pure, confident soul whose nature is not just within himself, but emanates and surrounds him and is taken in like the air by those around them.
It's smart to get the kind of ideas that lead us to resolve to some action from these kinds of people. Maybe the concept will come to somebody reading this book, the idea that will take hold of his mind, become a deliberate intention, focus into a purpose, and strengthen into a resolution--the concept that, even if it's the only thing good he can do in the world, he'll strive to be a Mansoul who has only pure influence emanating from him, and nothing corrupt. Maybe other things will come up for us to do, maybe great philanthropic projects will come our way. Actually, any sincere work that helps somehow is philanthropic, whether it's writing a book, working for a local church, or helping to make laws in the Senate. But nobody needs to feel left out because his work seems to be for no greater purpose than earning their living. Even that can be a great goal, if he does it with a will and single-minded focus. And such a person doesn't need
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to feel bad about having no influence, because everyone has influence. Influence isn't something that comes from how much opportunity a person has, or even how hard they try. Influence is what a person has with their own personality. Mansoul truly is a kingdom whose treasures and opportunities are there for anyone with the will to use them.
But there are people who never even entertain the ideas that present themselves. Therefore, they don't form any intention, purpose, or resolution on it. These are people who never use their Will. And some people deliberately choose to entertain corrupt or abusive ideas. The thoughts of those kinds of people are continually evil, and their purposes and resolutions are always towards evil objectives.
These different acts of the Will--intention, purpose and resolution--are not only possible for all of us, they're required of us. In fact, the Will is the tool that enables us to make use of the good, inspiring thoughts that come our way. When we grasp that kind of idea with deliberate intent, act upon it with a purpose, and struggle against obstacles with determined resolve, that's when we develop character and become useful to the world.
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We've already discussed a bit about the way the Will works. We know that the Will acts on ideas, which are presented to the mind in various ways--in books, talking, the Holy Spirit's influence. If we simply allow ourselves to act on mere suggestion, then we're not exercising the Will, we're just making allowances. An act of the Will isn't caused by any single ability of Mansoul. It's an impulse that collects strength from Reason, Conscience, and Affection. Little by little, it slowly comes to a head, and then its progress is regular and successive as it goes through the stages of intention, purpose and resolution. Then, any time we need to use our Will to decide on minor matters such as where we should go or what we should buy, we simply act on those principles and opinions that our Will has slowly accumulated to help guide us.
We all know that what we say and do isn't as important as what we determine with our Will because the Will defines the person, and it's what we do as a result of our Will that results in our character and our personality.
Someone might say, 'That all sounds great, and I'd be happy to place myself
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among people of good-will, but I know that in a crisis, I'll be overwhelmed. That's how it always is--anger, greed, mean thoughts, the desire to be popular or impress, confusion, or fear come upon me so strongly that I have no power to Will or to do. All I can do is just drift.'
Those sudden overwhelming feelings that flood our spirit, and the slow assault of outside influences, are something we're all familiar with. We call them temptations, and we pray that we won't enter into them. But we tend to forget that God's command includes the mandate to 'watch and pray.' Perhaps seventy five percent of the times that good people succumb to temptation are because they don't know or don't take time to think about which area they need to be watching. They struggle over their most troublesome sin issue and focus their attempts there so that they can resist it. And, in doing so, they set themselves up by being preoccupied with the wrong thing. Their familiar story has become a proverb: 'Hell is paved with good intentions.'
The place we need to keep on our guard isn't where we're always prone to sin. We need to be watching at the very small, narrow little gate where ideas present themselves for our examination. Our failures are always due to the sudden arrival of ideas that are against what the gate-keepers, Judgment and Conscience, have already approved.
These new ideas rush in. We've read how fair and just Othello was instantly overwhelmed by the idea of jealousy when Iago deviously suggested it. We can think of a thousand times in our own lives when some unworthy idea has forced its way in, persuaded Reason to side with it, come up with some justification to
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placate Conscience, and carried us headlong down some silly or evil path.
Knowing that Reason and Conscience aren't reliable, once an idea has been admitted after offering solid logic at the entrance, what we need to ask is how to deal with enemy ideas that pressure us to let them in. Most Christian teachers will advise us to fight them. The medieval church has a long history of fights with whips and lashes, stiff shirts, fasting, and painful self-denials that block out all the sweetness from life. Dramatic battles with evil, such as the incident with Martin Luther's ink bottle, can't always be avoided once certain destructive ideas have gotten in. But Jesus's advice to 'Watch and pray,' saves us. If we have the Will, there is a means at our disposal. It's as simple and unimpressive as David's sling and stone seemed against the giant. But it's just as effective. The spiritual world is like the physical world: the best ways are always simple.
Whenever a new idea shows up in a newspaper article or during a discussion with our friends, or just suddenly pops up in our own minds, we examine it with a quick action of a trained Reason and educated Conscience. We do it without even being conscious of it, it becomes a habit when the Will is trained (and the way to train a Will is with exercise!) to subject every random concept that comes our way to this kind of inspection before allowing it admittance and making it our own.
What if the idea doesn't pass muster with the two gate-keepers, Reason and Conscience, that make our judgments? Then what? Here is the brilliantly simple way that the Will works.
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We don't have to struggle against or argue with or say bad things about the trespasser. Instead, we consciously determine with a will to simply think of something else immediately--not something holy and lofty, but something interesting or entertaining. Perhaps we might imagine what we'd like to do on our next vacation, or what will happen next in the book we're reading, or we might think about a friend we haven't seen in a while, or even a fly we see crawling across the ceiling. Anything will do because anything that occupies the mind's attention will take its focus away from the treacherous idea that we want to get rid of. And no idea has any power over us until we willingly let it in and entertain it.
When life become stressful and we let down our guard, that's when we're in danger. Ideas that appeal to our vanity or temper or whatever assault us, and then our only salvation is a quick prayer--'Oh God, hurry and save us! Lord, quick, help us!' and then, as quick as thought, we need to turn our focus away from the frustrating circumstance and think of something entertaining or interesting. The weather, and what to wear for it, is always available as a topic!
We all pretty much recognize that our own moral Armageddon has to be fought against an army of enemy ideas. But we may not be aware of the simple, effective weapon that we have at our fingertips. Another thing we might not be aware of is that intellectual enemy ideas have to be dealt with in the same way as moral enemy ideas that are within us. We aren't at liberty to think whatever we feel like, any more than we're allowed to do whatever we feel like. In fact, thinking is the real act. Our opinions about God, other people, our church, the government, books and events are as much under the jurisdiction of the Will as our moral judgments are. In the same way, we must not casually entertain them. In our thoughts and opinions, we need to watch and pray against the irresponsible
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flight of opinions that are always fluttering around. Every opinion needs to be examined at the gate. No matter how appealing it sounds, if it doesn't pass the required tests, it needs to be pushed away and some familiar diverting thought needs to take its place. It isn't a case where we need to determine beforehand to reject a whole class of intellectual concepts. But it's our duty and responsibility to examine each idea that we meet by subjecting it to the tests of Reason and Conscience. If it doesn't pass the tests, then we need to simply think of something else that's enjoyable and engaging.
Once an idea gains admittance, it becomes our master, not our servant. There are ideas, both good and evil, either moral or intellectual, that captivate us, take hold of us, carry us away, absorb our whole being, so that, for better or worse, we can come to live as if we were the instrument of a single idea. That's why it's so necessary for us to keep watch at the gate where ideas come in. We need to become expert in the simple way of repelling ideas that we don't want to willingly entertain.
If we carefully study the Gospels, we'll see how vitally important the ideas of the Intellect are. We call them opinions and assume that 'every person has a right to form them for himself.' And he does, he has a right and a responsibility, and he needs to face the risks.
The Gospels are full of Jesus in the middle of controversies about fallacies. Fallacies are misleading opinions that have been approved by the Reason and allowed to pass by the Conscience because the Will let them in. It's a dangerous fact that Reason and Conscience themselves are at the mercy of any idea that they haven't been asked to examine before it was allowed in.
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We've seen that the job of managing of Mansoul and coordinating its abilities appropriately belongs to the Will. We've seen how the Will by itself is neither moral nor immoral. We've seen that the Will's job is to make choices, but the choices aren't between things, circumstances or people. The Will chooses between ideas. We've seen that, when the Will acts, that action has evolved from a long time of preparation under the guidance of the Intelligence, the Affections and the Conscience. The Will works through a process of slow evolution going through these stages at the very least: intent, purpose and resolution. Even when the Will acts immediately, not seeming to go through any process of evolution in preparation or operation, that action is actually based on principles and opinions that, themselves, were previous actions that the Will had chosen through a slow process of evolution and judgment.
We've also seen that, although man's job is to exercise his Will, many people shirk that duty. Instead they drift along, making allowances that determine their course of action, or following the changing whims that are specific to their particular temperament. Intellectual opinions and moral principles are both areas
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that are under the Will's jurisdiction. We understand that the Will humbly accepts and does its job for Mansoul, but that it finds itself constantly plagued with dangers, impulses on the one side, and suggestions on the other side. But the Will's workplace isn't as immense as it seems. It only has to keep watch at the gate where ideas enter. This is especially necessary because, although Reason is a reliable guide when it comes to ideas that the Will has rejected, it becomes a convincing pleader for an idea once that idea has been granted entrance. It's so persuasive that there's no crime or foolish action that man's Reason hasn't justified with logical-sounding arguments that can't be refuted. Even Conscience, the other judge of our actions, can be persuaded by Reason. If Mansoul is to be safe from anarchy, the Will has to be constantly vigilant at watching the gate where ideas enter. We also saw how hindrances that arise from strong impulses and powerful suggestions have a simple solution. The Will doesn't need to struggle and insist on resisting. The only way it needs to assert itself is to divert the thoughts as often as the impulse or suggestion returns. Every recurrence of temptation will be weaker than the last because the Will gains strength during pauses while the thoughts are thinking about something else.
This is what we've been able to gather about the functions and actions of the Will, although it's all a little vague. It's good for us to know everything we can about this one practical aspect of man because we've been given the task of working out our salvation from the foundational habits of our physical body, the scattered habits of our mind, excessive emotions, and corrupt and conventional moral judgments. The Will is the only tool we have to work with.
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Our Will is what has to keep us from getting caught up in the intellectual and moral fallacies that our culture is full of. Our Will is what saves us from the status quo kind of respectability that's afraid to rock the boat and does everything according to convention. This kind of mainstream respectability doesn't make a deliberate thought-out decision to conform, it just does what everyone else is doing out of laziness. This kind of attitude might look like good-will, but it saddens people who really care about others because these kinds of people live for themselves and miss the real point of life and even life itself. They live to be successful and prosper so that they can have more luxury or culture or pleasure. This kind of life that's lived for Self and one's own interests and comfort is what Jesus condemned when He said, 'He who saves his life will lose it.'
That's why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners and saved his worst accusations for the 'respectable' classes of people. The sinners still had a Will that might be inspired to rise, even if only weakly, if exposed to a great idea, to a call to a life focused on something outside of themselves. But the men who considered themselves above reproach were so wrapped up in themselves that they were incapable of exercising their Will enough to even 'Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.'
There are only two kinds of service that man can choose between: a life that has Self at its center and as its end goal, and a life that has God and serving God's children as its object.
It's possible to choose to serve God unconsciously when we think that we only have a passionate desire to help people. But there's no possible way to drift into serving God when our goal is our own personal success, not even if that success includes the ultimate highest good of saving
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our own soul. It's been said that selfishness doesn't improve when it's eternal selfishness.
If Jesus were to walk among us today, maybe He would cry out in our streets, 'Woe to the land that holds up the standard of its own success as the goal for every person!' We can't live our lives any higher than what we aim for. Our Will needs to be focused on something other than itself, whether that something is good or bad. Maybe that's why there's more hope for some sinners than there is for some 'respectable' people.
We can discern a little of what the Will's job is, and how it acts. If we try to look closer and analyze so we can define it, it eludes us like all the other great mysteries of life, death and personality. But we can discern this much: in a person of good-will, the Will is totally free. As a matter of fact, the only kind of Will is a free will. That's why a conventional mainstream person who never thinks through choices doesn't have any free will. He's without a Will. The Will, or free will, needs to have some object outside of itself. Tennyson said it as well as anyone:
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We've been trying to gather together the little bit of knowledge that's available to us step by step about the Body, Mind and Heart [see Volume 4, Book I, Self-Knowledge], and the Will and Conscience. We've seen that there isn't a clear definition of Will and Conscience, and there's no clear boundary between them. Mansoul has many abilities, but Mansoul is one unified being. By carefully analyzing each one, we can gather hints about what each one does, and those hints help us to discover the laws of our nature that will help us to manage ourselves.
Now we're going to leave the outer courts of Mind and Body, and the Holy Places of the Affections and the Will. We're going to enter the Holy of Holies where the person performs his priestly duties. After all, every person is a priest who's responsible to do his job in his Most Holy Place.
The temple that's dedicated to serving the living God in each Mansoul is called our Soul. The Soul of man is so wonderful! We often talk about ourselves as finite beings, but anyone who has experienced the thrill of the Soul when it comes upon a great idea must doubt
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that we're finite creatures. Maybe it's because we have a connection with the infinite that we have capacity for God.
What baffles the understanding of a person? Is anything out of the range of what he thinks about, or out of the reach of what he aspires to? Yes, he is baffled every way he looks by his own ignorance. Even the wisest men have unlimited ignorance. But ignorance isn't the same as incapacity. The wings of our souls beat impatiently against the bars of our ignorance. If we could, we'd escape and fly out into the universe of infinite thought and infinite possibilities. How can man's Soul be satisfied? Ruling kings have given up their kingdoms because they wanted something greater than dominions. Profound scholars are frustrated with the limitations that confine them to the outer edges of the limitless ocean of knowledge. No great love is ever fully satisfied by loving. Man's Soul can find no real satisfaction because everything around him is finite, able to be measured, incomplete. But his reach is beyond his grasp. He has an urgent, persistent need for the infinite.
Even we common people who aren't kings, poets or scholars are eager and content while we're pursuing, but we know that once we have attained our goal, whether it's position, power, love or money, that old insatiable hunger will be upon us again. We'll want something more, but we don't know what!
St. Augustine knew what our hunger was for. He said that the Soul of man was made for God and would never be satisfied until it found Him. But our religious thinking has become so poor and ordinary, so self-concerned, that we interpret St. Augustine's words to mean that we won't be satisfied until we find everything
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good that we attach to the concept of salvation. We deceive and belittle ourselves with this idea because it's not anything for ourselves that we crave. The dry breadcrumbs we throw to our Souls in the form of one success or another don't quench our hunger.
'I want, I'm made for, I must have a God.' Within us, we have an infinite capacity for love, loyalty and service. But we're hindered and stopped everywhere we turn by imitation in whatever it is we love and serve. Only to God can we give everything we have, and only He can give us the love we really need. The love He gives us is like the air--it's something we live in, and without it, we gasp for breath and die. Who else, except God, who made heaven and earth, holds the key to all knowledge? Where else, except in God who has all the power, can we find the secret of dominion? Our need and search for goodness and beauty are frustrated by one thing, disappointed somewhere else because it's only in God that we can find the whole. The Soul was made for God, and God is what the Soul needs in the same way that an eye was made for light and light is what the eye needs. When we see that the Souls of even the poorest and most uneducated people have a capacity for God and can't be content without Him, can we honestly believe that man is a finite being? But even words themselves are frustrating. We're not even totally sure what we mean by finite and infinite.
We like to say that there's no royal road to learning. But the highest thing that man can attain is available and approachable to even the simple and needy. It can be reached by a path that any traveler, no matter how foolish, can't miss. In that very fact, we see a glimpse of the infinite that we hunger for. It seems strange to our finite understanding that everything we need is offered and attainable even to the simplest and the lowest people!
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The Soul has its share of persistent obstacles and deep-rooted diseases, just like the Mind and Heart do. Although we all have an overwhelming need for God and a great capacity to receive Him, very few people ever actually attain anything close to a constant 'fruition of Your glorious Godhead.' Many of us have momentary glimpses of it. But most of us aren't even aware of its existence. There are three main reasons why we're so dead to spiritual things: laziness, preoccupation and repulsion.
We've already discussed how a certain kind of lethargy of the Mind keeps us from entering into the rich inheritance that's available to our intelligence. In a similar way, the Soul is dead and not even aware of the hunger and thirst that only God can satisfy. The Conscience may be alert and demanding things of us such as church attendance, personal prayer, and reading good books. Or it might be dulled and neglect these things. In either case, it's possible to have little or no dread of God. It might not even want to fear God, because a lazy Soul avoids anything that might shake it out of its comfortable life. A lazy Soul wants others to
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applaud him for doing no harm, and it wants to take pride in 'doing my duty' when it comes to doing what's expected.
The inner Soul isn't dead, it's just sleeping. It could be awakened if the person's Will would respond to God's kindness, but it's sluggish. Even the urgent cry to 'Wake up! Wake up!' doesn't penetrate its sleepy ears.
A person with a lazy Soul has wickedness in Him because 'God isn't in all his thoughts.' He's able to live hour to hour, day to day, even year to year without ever turning his face to God in the same way that a flower turns to the sun, like any living Soul would do. It isn't that he never thinks about God. Every person has probably said at one time or another, 'God, help me!' and most people sometimes say, 'Thank God!' But an occasional, rare cry to God is very different from having God in all his thoughts.
The only hope for a lazy Soul, whether it's a regular church member or a wild, careless person, is that some random living idea about God might strike his Mind and inspire his Will to desire, to intend and to resolve. This is called conversion, and this is what God does every day with His dull, heartless children. All of us have experienced this kind of conversion in a greater or lesser degree many times in our lives. And sometimes a major conversion happens to a generous person, or to a hardened sinner, and, from that moment, all of the intents of his heart and the ways of his life are forever changed.
A lazy Soul who won't wake up to God's presence is in fatal danger. And so is a Mind or Heart that's so preoccupied that
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it has no room for the dominating, absorbing thought of God. 'My duty to God is to love Him with all my heart and mind' as well as 'my soul and strength.' No ability of Mansoul works in isolation. The Mind and Heart have to unite with the worshipful Soul.
It's possible and only far too common for us to be so obsessed with one idea or absorbed with lots of ideas that we don't realize we need God--we might even miss the fact that He exists at all! Whatever we're wrapped up in might be fine in itself--it could be a noble project, family affection, or a passionate pursuit for knowledge. All of those things are worthy and honorable. But any of them can so fully absorb a person that he doesn't care about God. There's no room for God in his thoughts. The mere thought of God might seem like an intrusion because he would rather be thinking about something else. It's not that he's what we would consider a wicked person, but he's living his life without God. He doesn't realize it, but he's suffering from a huge deprivation. It's as if the best part of him is crippled or his highest function is damaged. He has to creep through life like some poor wretched soul who spends his life in a dark room without ever knowing what's it's like to take a deep breath in an open field under a wide blue sky. Such a person usually means well. Imagine the joy he would have to suddenly find the knowledge of God, whether it's here or in the hereafter!
There's another kind of disability that a soul can have that's even more strange and astonishing than any we've already looked at. In human nature, there's an aversion to God. It might be like
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Article 9 [of the Anglican Church's 39 Articles of Religion], part of the 'original sin which naturally corrupts every person who is born of Adam's race,' or it might be our freewill's involuntary aversion to authority. It doesn't matter; either way, human nature has a natural stubborn aversion to God as well as a profound craving for Him.
A toddler doesn't want to say his prayers, and a mature Christian senses his own unwillingness and wandering away from God, even though he knows that all of his joy is in God. This involuntary turning away from God is the cross we all have to bear with the discipline of a soul pursuing God. Whatever the cause may be, it does seem to be in the nature of things. If our hearts were drawn to God as inevitably as raindrops fall to the ground, then we wouldn't have the independent choice of freewill, and there'd be no sense of victory when we're faithfully loyal.
But, besides this natural involuntary aversion that we're ashamed of, there's voluntary aversion. This is the animosity and hostility towards God of a rebellious, sinful Soul. This is the kind of Soul that's so full of pride or blatant evil that he can't tolerate even the thought of God. He makes fun of God's Word, defies His laws, rejects His Will and blasphemes His name. We're shocked when we see someone do this aggressively, but when it's done with a cool superiority and good nature with the power of intellectualism, it's enough to sway any of us, even for a minute, and make us wonder if the scoffer knows something that we don't. That's because we all have the seeds of
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natural aversion to God in our hearts. But a scoffer has nurtured and fertilized those seeds into a full-grown fruit-bearing tree.
'Let the person who stands be careful not to fall.' We need to hold tight to our loyalty. We know that making a deliberate choice for God with our Will is the only thing we have to offer to God. And we're comforted to know that involuntary aversion isn't a sin, it's just an opportunity to exercise our free choice. When we choose to turn away from God, our sin doesn't remove us from God's mercy, but it's still a very great sin.
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When we recognize how much a person's soul is hampered from grasping God by laziness, preoccupation and aversion, we suddenly realize the important job that the Will has to do, and, sparked by a great, uplifting thought, the Will rises to the occasion. But our Will can't sustain us if our perception of God is that it's merely religion and, therefore, optional to take or leave according to our preference, or if we wait around passively for a strong enough impulse or something compelling enough to goad us into doing what should be our first priority. We don't only have the world, our flesh and the devil to struggle against--we also have conflicting moods and tendencies within ourselves. In desiring God, we've chosen an ambitious goal that will require all the courage and persistence we have, and our Will will take on that mission and muster its forces to stand on God's side. Even though there might be lots of times of falling away and repenting after that one major act of the Will when we're converted, we can still hold on to the hope that our Soul has made an eternal decision to side with good. When a soldier is fined and thrown into the brig for misbehaving, he doesn't cease being a soldier. When it's time to go to battle, he doesn't desert like a rebel.
We meets lots of people in the world that we
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never get to know very well. Some are in social circles above or below us, some are too superior to do the things we enjoy or they're into things we consider unworthy, and there are some who seem like we'd love getting to know but they're not approachable, and others seem so simple-minded or narrow that we consider them unworthy to open up our deepest thoughts to.
But there's one close friendship available to all of us, whether we're lonely because we feel like everyone around us is inferior, or because we feel unworthy of anyone else's notice. We're amazed to think that such a valuable intimacy is available to every humble soul. Jesus said, 'Eternal life is to know You, the only true God, and Jesus, who You sent,' Knowing the exalted God intimately is something that's available to all of us. There's only one condition--we have to choose it. When we feel like we're not good enough or intelligent enough to be friends with some people, and we're too good or too smart for some crowds, it can seem astonishing that such a supreme friendship can belong to anyone who wants it, because every Soul has the capacity to know God. Not all people are able to understand math, or science, or politics, but the knowledge of God, which floods the Soul like a huge ocean floods a fish, isn't beyond the reach of anyone. Professor W. K. Clifford wrote about an agonizing time when he lost his faith in God and came to the conclusion that 'the great Companion was dead.' But the 'great Companion' never dies. 'He knows when we sit down, and when we get up. He understands our thoughts long before we grasp them.' He is intimately involved in everything we do and everything we intend to do. He cheers up our dull times, gives us rest when we're worn out, consoles us when we're grieving, adds to our happiness,
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warns, reprimands and punishes our sin, and gives us what those of us who have ever loved someone generously recognize as the best, most perfect joy, in continually growing amounts: He gradually reveals Himself to us. Like the blind man who received his sight, we can't see anything at all to begin with, then we can see men as if we're seeing tree trunks walking around, and then our eyes are fully opened so that we can see a vision of our God.
There are a number of ways that the knowledge of God can come to us. We might be drawn by the words, actions or looks of people we know and learn a very convincing lesson. A little piece of moss or a bare tree in the winter might suddenly awaken us to a knowledge of God. Or we might feel a strange longing in our own heart, or experience a nudging for repentance and love, or receive sweet answers to our meager and selfish prayers, or sense tokens of friendships that we can't definitely pin down. All of these are steps towards that most important knowledge.
In the same way that a person listens closely to the voice of a beloved friend and reads his letters again and again, a person who loves God will search the Bible to know God more fully like he craves. It makes no difference to him if one book repeats the sentiments of another, or whether certain passages are attributed to a different author than the title indicates, or that myths and legends may have been recorded as well as Jewish historical events, or that the latest scientific knowledge contradicts some passages and history contradicts some stories [many of the contradictions that alarmed Christians in CM's time have been corrected by later discoveries]. These things may or may not be true. The person who truly wants to know God appreciates scientists and scholars for doing their work, and he acknowledges that the Bible shouldn't be exempt from textual criticism. But he also knows that there are a lot of reasons to be cautious and not to be too quick to accept
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the latest pronouncement from the critics. He remembers an article in the newspaper about the King of Servia who had to take off his crown twice during his coronation because it was too heavy for him, and how the royal flag fell as it was carried in procession to the cathedral. These omens made the people there uneasy. Yet, in the future, historians might claim that these incidents were merely legends, and, according to their proper procedure, remove them from history texts because they want their books to only contain scientifically proven history.
Little things like this make a student of the Bible stop and think. He respects truth reverently, and he welcomes investigation into the truth. But he also knows that the latest critics aren't infallible. But even this is beside the point. As far as he's concerned, even if false statements, books credited to the wrong author, and other inconsistencies were found on every page and proved to be inaccuracies of the text, he still believes that the Bible is the one and only place to find revealed knowledge about God.
The poems, histories and sacred writings of Greece, Rome, India, Persia and China all unwittingly affirm that it isn't possible for man to understand God by searching. A lovely gleam of divine inspiration touches one wise person in one place, and another person somewhere else, and another in a different place, but every time they tried to combine these stray inspired gleams into a complete concept of what the Deity is like, they produced a legion of gods, or a monstrous deity. The insight and wisdom of past thinkers has given us all of the philosophy about human life that we have, and every kind of knowledge there is--except knowledge about God.
How are we better than those great ancient civilizations who knew so much and accomplished so much? Only in inheriting a treasure of knowledge that was passed on to the world by the Jewish nation whose spiritual insight
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made them suited to receive it. As a result, we have something that ancient cultures didn't--a revelation of God that completely satisfies man's Soul, and guides all of his Soul's aspirations.
Consider just one amazing revelation--that God is love:
This is a bit of knowledge that men in previous times didn't even dare to dream about, except as revealed in the Bible. But, unbelievably, some people act like someone who finds a gold nugget and tosses it aside because it's imbedded in a piece of iron and he doesn't want to bother separating it. In fact, his eye can't even pick out the difference between the two. This seems insane to the diligent miner. And that's how it is with the Bible. The Soul is capable of grasping God, and when it grasps God, it finds life, freedom and satisfaction. When the Soul knows God, it lives in its proper environment and is complete, free and as joyful as a bird in flight. But without that knowledge, 'the heavy, weary weight of the entire confusing world' feels like it's crushing our life.
But, although it's proper and necessary for us to know our God, it isn't inevitable. As we've already seen, the Soul is very stubborn and tries to evade the very knowledge that makes it healthy. We need to start with a determined, steadfast act of the Will, a deliberate choice. And then we have to work to get what's best for us, having confidence that when we ask for it,
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we'll receive it, when we search, we'll find, and when we knock, the door will be opened for us. But our searching needs to be single-minded and purposeful. We can't sincerely be diligent about seeking a thing that we consider worthless, whether it's something in the Bible, something in the way the world operates, or something in our own life. We need to expect to find grains of gold. And, as we gather a collection of it, we'll be walking and living in continual intimacy with Divine Love, and we'll be constantly worshiping Divine Beauty with freedom because the Truth has made us free.
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It's hard to separate and isolate the different functions of the Soul because they all work together. But in order to have fullness of life, we need to continually talk with God and continually hear His responses, although the Soul is humbled by the wonderfully sweet hope that God will answer. These things are necessary if we're going to have the intimate union with God that we were made for. A hundred times a day, our thoughts turn to God, sometimes to repent, sometimes to request something, sometimes because we're afraid or have aspirations, and sometimes, most wonderfully of all, in shared understanding with God. Our hearts thrill with delight when we see the beautiful blue of a flowering herb, or a glorious star in the sky, or when we experience the grace of hearing some good news. And then we lift our hearts to God, even though we may not say a word, and our impulse is a feeling of mutual joy, because we know that God also delights in beauty and goodness.
These continuous impulses of the Soul towards God hardly seem like prayer to us, but they get a response. We cry out in fear, and a word of hope comes to us. We confess a sin, and we sense a feeling of peace. We express delight in God's work, and we grow in love. These are answers that God, our 'Heavenly Lover,' gives in response to the clumsy, erratic impulses of our pathetic hearts. We've all experienced how
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we pray for definite things and, so many times, answers have come that we were able to recognize as God's hand. Even our willful prayers that don't end with, 'Your will be done' get an answer. Our restless heart becomes calm. We learn to see things from God's perspective, and that quiets us.
I think that most people who are seeking to know God would say that they never in a long life of praying had a prayer that didn't get answered. In every case, they've recognized the answer.
Perhaps they had an experience where the walls of Jericho fell before them, or the Jordan River parted, or their enemies were destroyed on the battlefield. Perhaps these things happened in natural ways that weren't obvious, with no interference from nature. But that doesn't mean they weren't supernatural, since they happened in spite of nature, ordered by God who 'holds back the spirit of princes,' and who 'rules and governs the hearts of kings.'
Even though there's continual communication between God and our Soul, the habit of praying needs to be reinforced by establishing routine times, places and occasions to pray. We need to give ourselves time to pray, and set aside regular times for prayer. First thing in the morning when we get out of bed, we need to seek God and lay our day and all its anxieties, hopes and desires out before Him with a reverent attitude and attentive mind. We need to bring those we love before God for His blessing. We need to ask God to help people who are sorrowing, have needs, are sick or in trouble. As the habit of praying becomes established, we'll begin to feel compelled to go out and provide help for those we pray for even before we finish our prayer.
Every time we hear about war, hunger, ignorance, crime,
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or misery, we'll be quick to pray. As we pray, our love for all people will grow, and we'll think of many ways to help. We'll remember Jesus's caution against praying with too many words, for 'God is in heaven and we're on the earth.' So, before we begin our prayer, we'll reflect on what we want to say.
But we need to remember that our requests should be thought out with purpose, and they should be combined with a strong desire on our part. It's true that,
But that doesn't mean we can neglect planned and purposeful meetings with God that make our Soul feel free like a bird stretching its wings.
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God said, 'Whoever offers Me thanks and praise, he honors Me.' We're taken aback to realize that it's up to us to add honor to the Supreme God--yet we often don't put our praise and thanks into words.
'Weren't there ten healed? Where are the other nine?' Sadly, we're often just like those nine poor, pitiful men who received so much and gave nothing in return, not even a thank you. We should take note that 'the ungrateful and evil' are paired together in the list of lost souls that we find in the book of Revelation. We do have moments when we're thankful and we say,
But our mistake and great failure is that we don't take stock of the blessings in our lives that make us grateful and 'transport us' with wonder, love and praise. We neglect praising God partly because we're too preoccupied with some stress or problem of the moment, and partly because of the stubborn way we turn away from God
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that puts us in danger. We need to set aside time to take stock of our lives and count our blessings, even if it's only on Sundays, or, even less often, even if it's only during the major holidays.
Life is so good, it's so joyous to be outside, even if it's in the streets of a city! It's wonderful to see the sun! It's good to enjoy health, even if we're not well and can only enjoy the small bit of health we have. All the sweet aspects of family life, the love of family members, the kindness of our neighbors, the love of our friends is so good and warm. It's good to be part of a great country and to share in all her interests and concerns. It's good to belong to the world of humanity and to recognize that anything that concerns others, also concerns us. How wonderful to have books, art and music! How enjoyable knowledge is! How delicious our food is! How comfortable our clothes are! How refreshing our sleep is, and how joyful to wake up!
The Soul that considers all these things, and a thousand other good things in its routine life, is indeed a 'Soul that rises and sees,' rising to God the Father, who 'knows that we need these things,' and the heart overflows with love, forcing the Soul to express thanks and praise. Even an occasional act of thanksgiving like this can make our life seem sweeter. Spontaneous thanksgiving rises up out of us every day and every hour. We might say a prayer of thanks for a kind look we received, or a beautiful poem, or an enjoyable book, as naturally as we might give thanks for a good dinner. In fact, more so, because 'man doesn't live by bread alone.'
But we tend to think so little of ourselves. It doesn't seem to us like it matters whether we thank God or not for all of the surprising sweet gifts and blessings that He gives us.
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In fact, we never would have known that it mattered at all, except that God, using the sympathetic grace that most earthly parents don't show, told us that He's honored by our thanks! It seems impossible that we could add anything to God, much less add to His honor! This is a great opportunity--let's give thanks!
Most of us probably fall on our knees to thank God for special requests that we've begged God to provide for us as a loving Father--perhaps the healing of a loved one who was sick, or to have some stressful problem taken care of, or to open up an opportunity that we longed for. When God blesses us with these kinds of graces, we're generous and unreserved in our thanks. But the habit of continually being grateful is more than that.
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Our dull souls can be slow to think--but they're even slower to praise, because praise demands an ability to appreciate with discrimination, reflection and thankfulness.
We all know how distressed painters and musicians get when they get compliments from people who don't understand their work, but they're thrilled to get a word of discriminating praise from someone who knows what they're talking about. They're honored. And that's the kind of honor that God wants from us.
The Church has always sung, 'We praise Thee, Oh, God.' Prophets, persecuted Christians and martyrs have praised God with their lives, and, in some cases, by their deaths. Even today, there are people who devote themselves to lives full of pain and risk to honor God and serve their fellow man. We recognize that they're also living lives of praise to God. Some poets have been given inspiration to write some necessary message, some painters have illustrated 'The Light of the World' for us, or other images of Jesus, like Russian Ivan Kramskoi's picture of Jesus seated in the wilderness. We know that these artists praise God, but they're few and far between. Honest, down-to-earth people who tolerate trials with patience
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or live their appointed lives with a conscious sense that their lives are appointed also praise God. We recognize and revere all of these ways of praising God, but we incompetent common people seem to fail at it ourselves. We're no angels; we have no harps or halos.
But the responsibility of praising isn't only for occasional events or rare circumstances. The responsibility is waiting at our doorstep every day. We never would have dared to presume that the Great Craftsman, like every skilled artist, loves it when others recognize the beauty, perfection and harmony of the work He creates. It's so good to know this about God. It draws Him nearer to us by making us as humans more able to relate to Him. The Psalms says, 'The merciful and gracious God has made His wonderful works to be remembered.' [Psa 111:4] He never got tired of telling how 'the heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies show His handiwork' [Psa 19:1] and 'He feeds the young ravens when they cry out to Him' [Psa 147:9] and 'All the trees of the field clap their hands.' [Isaiah 55:12] We see all of these things, but David did more than see them. These things sang in his heart to a continual hymn of praise. He knew how to honor God with praise, and the Bible says that he was man after God's own heart.
Every era seems to have its own prophets. They might be painters, poets, or whatever, whose task is to lead their culture in praise. Perhaps in our day, it's scientists who have been promoted to this high honor. And they reveal so much for us to praise! We are correct in calling those kinds of men discoverers because their scientific findings were already there. they didn't create
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them, but they were allowed to discover them and then share them with the rest of us. Every day there's some new reason for us to wonder, admire, and praise because some previously unknown great concept has been revealed. These new discoveries are mighty displays of God's power, and scientists today understand that divine power is behind all the workings of nature.
Imagine ships in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that can communicate without any visible cables or wires to the land a thousand miles away! And the potential and laws that make this possible have always been there, known by God, but only recently have been discovered by a man who was prepared. What other secrets might still be hidden, just waiting for us to be ready to discover them? So many amazing discoveries have been opened up to us just in the last few years! A sense of God's existence permeates all of nature. 'How excellent Your works are, Oh God! You have made them all in Your wisdom. The earth is full of Your treasures!' 'The person who gives thanks and praise is the one who honors Me.' Let's not neglect to lift our offering of praise to our God every day.
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'My duty towards God is to believe in Him.' That's our main duty, the priority of our lives. Without that, the other duties don't seem to count much.
As a girl, I was told, much to my great annoyance and sadness, 'just believe.' If I'd been told, 'Just fly,' I might not have been able to fly, but at least I would have known exactly what was expected of me. But 'just believe' is meaningless. Of course I believed, in the same way that I believe something like, yesterday was Wednesday Oct 5, or there was a Queen Elizabeth, or Pharaoh ruled in Egypt. These things, and a thousand other things, weren't things I ever bothered to doubt. I believed them as a matter of course. But--to believe in God?
Of course I believed that God existed, but what difference could that make? I had the awareness that belief of that kind wasn't part of my life, but I didn't know any other way to believe.
Confusion of this kind undoubtedly troubles many people who are persuaded that their duty is to believe in God. It's my duty towards God, and I have to do it for myself. No one can do it for me and
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nobody can give me any real help in doing it. No one can give me faith. But it's possible for some people to give me some guidance. We're told that 'faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God.' In other words, faith in God comes in the same way that faith in a friend does--with knowledge. We trust our friend because we know him. Because we know him, we believe in him. Faith, trust, confidence and belief are all the same thing.
If we said that we believed in a person we hardly knew anything about, like the Emperor of Korea, we'd sound like a fool. Yet sometimes we do say that we believe in a particular politician or preacher or whatever. In fact, the entire government and finance are all carried out on a huge system of trust and mutual belief. We might say, 'as safe as the Bank of America,' but even the Bank of America operates on a system of credit. We send members to the House of Representatives based on our belief in them. Members of families believe in each other, and, if jealousy or mistrust develops between parents and children or husband and wife, it's an exception to the norm--a disgraceful exception to the general law of family trust.
The same is true of dishonesty and corruption in routine sales transactions and public trust. Sometimes it happens, but they're shameful exceptions. In general, we live by having faith in each other. The common trust we share comes from common knowledge. Experiencing the world and life itself teaches us faith. Only bitter, bad-tempered people base their judgments on the exceptions, agreeing with the Psalmist in his darkest mood that 'all people are liars.'
There are two kinds of faith that we exercise towards others--a general faith we give to people
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and institutions which comes from general knowledge and experiences, and the kind of intimate, specific faith we put in people we think we know very well. That faith is love. In the same way, there are two kinds of faith we can have in God. There's a general faith that trusts that God is in control, everything is for the best in His plan, God will provide, and that He will have mercy on us.
We can analyze the kind of faith we have by asking ourselves honestly if our faith is the same as love. Does our heart feel a thrill of joy when we even think about God, crying out, 'I will arise and go to my Father' in the same way that our heart springs up and wants to be with a person we love and believe in? If we don't really love God, then we don't believe, because faith doesn't happen to us by accident, or even naturally. When we trust our friends, we're recognizing whatever nobility and beauty there is within them. This is the kind of faith we owe to God. From our knowledge, we recognize that He is Love and Truth and Light and the One our heart cries out to, saying, 'Who do I have in heaven except You? There's no one on earth that I want as much as You.' (From the Prayer Book version of the Psalms.)
We've already discussed the way to get to know God. Faith is the action of the Will that we use to choose Him once we've learned to know Him. Love develops from faith, and service is the result of that love. It's hardly possible to define the different ways in which a Christian heart expresses its desire for God. 'Like the deer desires water from the brook, that's the way my soul longs for You, God.' (from the Prayer Book version of the Psalms.) There we find knowledge, faith and love.
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What I want to emphasize is that this attitude of the Soul isn't an option. It's required of us, an obligation of duty that we owe. We can't claim that we don't know, because it's been revealed to us in the Bible. And we can hardly say that we don't believe that revelation. Its truth maintains the ultimate test--it reveals to us the God that our souls need, and find complete satisfaction in. 'His ways are all pleasant, and His paths are all peace.' To say we don't believe is nothing less than an act of blatant insubordination, and an act of disloyalty. It's worse than being unfaithful in a human relationship because God means more to us and is closer to us than anyone else.
People satisfy their consciences and feel like they've met all of their Christian responsibility when they do their duty towards their neighbor. But we don't have the right to pick and choose one part of the law to do, doing the one that's less important and neglecting what's more important--our responsibility to personally know God, and to have faith in Him, love Him and serve Him. We're supposed to do these things directly, not indirectly by serving our fellow man. We're supposed to take care of both responsibilities. It's my duty, and my duty towards God is my first priority.
I don't have space in a small book like this to discuss all the aspects of the Christian faith, even if I were to use something concise like the Apostles' Creed.
We talk about 'the Creed' casually and assume that we understand it--until one of its Articles is challenged by skeptics, and then another one is disputed by critics. And then we have no answer, so we secretly write off one clause after another and plan to hold onto what's left. It might help to know that none of the articles of the Creed is supposed to appeal to our Reason. We know as little
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about the Creation as we do about the Incarnation, and as little about forgiveness of sins as the resurrection of the body. It's all a mystery, something that's impossible for a human heart to comprehend without divine revelation.
'The mystery of Godliness is great. God became a man, was proved to be genuine in the spirit, seen by angels, preached to the Gentiles, believed in the world, and then was received up into glory.' [1 Tim 3:16] What a desolate, dreary place we'd be in if our spirits were limited to only what they could understand! But we shouldn't assume that mystery is limited to religion, and that everything else is obvious and within our understanding. The great things in life, birth, death, hope, love, patriotism, what makes a leaf green, why birds have feathers--all of these kinds of things are mysteries. It's only when we're able to accept things we can't understand, and know that certain things are true even if we can't prove them, and when we can tell the difference between a brilliant mystery and a mystifying superstition, that we'll be able to live the full life that God created us for.
There's one thing we need to be sure we grasp, and that's a clear concept of what Christianity is. Christianity doesn't mean 'being good' or serving our fellow man. There are lots of people who do those things even better than we do, and still don't accept the Lordship of Jesus. A Christian has an awareness that Jesus is a Savior Who's always there, nearby whenever we're in danger or in need. A Christian is aware that Jesus is the King, and that we belong to Him, and a Christian is happy to serve Him. Christ rules our destiny and appoints the duties we needs to do. It's a wonderful thing to be owned, and Jesus Christ owns us. He is our Chief, and we love to honor and serve Him. He's our Savior, the One Who
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delivers us. He's our Friend and He treasures us. He's our King and He blesses us with His reign. Christianity only seems possible for those who fully recognize that Jesus is God.
Let's cry out with St. Augustine,
1. How is the body kept healthy, and how is it ruined?
2. What abilities does the mind have to deal with knowledge?
3. What functions serve the same purpose for the mind that the appetites serve for the body?
4. Name some of the virtues related to love, and some of the virtues related to justice.
5. Which virtues are related to the justice that we owe to our own bodies?
6. Why do the body, heart, and mind need governing?
7. What are the governing powers?
Part I - The Conscience
Chapter 1 - The Court Of Appeal
1. In what ways is conscience like a judge in a court of law?
2. Conscience continually bears witness of what two or three facts?
3. Why is it possible for conscience to give wrong judgments?
4. Which ability is used to tamper with conscience?
5. Why is it necessary for the conscience to be educated?
Chapter 2 - Teaching the Conscience
1. What teachers does the conscience depend on to teach it?
2. What's the educational value of history and biography?
3. What's the educational value of the Bible in teaching morals?
4. How does poetry teach us?
5. Why is the teaching of older novels and plays to be preferred?
Chapter 3 - Conscience's Rulings In The House Of The Body: Moderation
1. Give two or three examples from literature of immoderation in eating.
2. Give two or three examples from literature of immoderation in drinking.
3. Give two or three examples from literature of immoderation in relaxing.
4. Give two or three examples from literature of immoderation in day-dreaming.
5. What is Carlyle's advice about work?
6. What principle is moderation based on?
7. Why shouldn't we be careless about our health?
8. Explain how neglecting our health is a form of immoderation.
9. Give a few rules for the managng of our physical health.
10. Why do we need clear principles about our duty regarding our health?
Chapter 4 - The Rulings of Conscience in the House of the Body: Purity (Part 1)
1. How do overly attached friendships affect the purity of our soul?
2. 'Yet what have I done wrong?' What lesson can we learn from this question of King Edward II.'s?
3. Why aren't we free to give ourselves with unlimited abandon?
Chapter 5 - The Rulings Of the Conscience In the House Of The Body: Purity (Part 2)
1. Give some examples of sensible and sincere friendships.
2. What rules for self-management are illustrated in each of them?
3. What two kinds of friends have a right to our loyalty?
Chapter 6 - The Rulings of Conscience in the House of the Body: Purity (part 3)
1. Show the effect of devious flirtations.
2. What habit prepares the way?
3. Which monster of our nature do we not want to be in a death-grapple with?
4. How can we keep ourselves safe from this?
5. How can we keep 'a pure heart in work and will'?
Chapter 7 - The Rulings of the Conscience in the House of the Body: Fortitude
1. Describe Botticelli's 'Fortitude.'
2. How did Isaiah give us an image of fortitude?
3. Use two or three examplesto show that there is an element of kindness in fortitude.
4. Explain how Sir Kenneth in The Talisman illustrates an example of fortitude.
5. Give an example of fortitude under distressing troubles.
6. Give an example of cheerful, serviceable fortitude.
7. What about wearing a 'black ribbon' when things go wrong?
8. Show that fortitude is a physical virtue.
9. What did the Apostle Paul say regarding fortitude?
Chapter 8 - The Rulings of the Conscience in the House of the Body: Prudence
1. Show why imprudence is the same selfishness.
2. Why do we need prudence in everything we do?
3. Why do we need prudence in the choice of our friends?
4. How does prudence deal with undue influence?
5. Explain how prudence prefers simplicity to luxury.
6. Explain why prudent citizens are a society's most valuable asset.
7. How does prudence the way we furnish our surroundings?
8. How was the Scripture, 'My servant will deal prudently,' fulfilled?
Chapter 9 - Opinions in the Air
1. What part of our lives do we tend to think is exempt from the
judgment of conscience?
2. Show the danger of casual opinions.
3. How does a fallacy work?
4. Give four rules that should help us in the matter of opinions.
Chapter 10 - The Untaught Conscience
1. Show that, in everyone, conscience is persistent about some issues.
2. What causes moral instability? Who tends to be morally unstable?
3. Show, by example, how an entire nation can be unstable.
4. Illustrate the danger of a compelling idea.
5. What are some of the dangers of moral ignorance?
6. Show that painstaking over-vigilance is a result of ignorance.
7. What moral advantage does an instructed conscience have over an uninstructed conscience?
Chapter 11 - The Instructed Conscience
1. Give some examples to show that sensible moral judgment is a
2. What's the difference between the ability to form moral judgments, and the ability to live a virtuous life?
3. How can we to get the ability to form moral judgments?
Chapter 12 - Some of Conscience's Teachers: Poetry, Novels and Essays
1. Show that the ability of poetry to educate the conscience does not
depend on its direct teaching.
2. Explain the gradual way in which Shakespeare influences us.
3. For what purpose should we read novels, and what sort of novels should we read?
4. Why are essays useful for teaching us?
Chapter 13 - Some of Conscience's Teachers: History and Philosophy
1. Why is history important to us now more than ever?
2. What's the difference between an informed and an ignorant patriot?
3. Show why we need to know some philosophy.
4. How should we reach our convictions?
5. Illustrate that using Columbus as an example.
6. How may we tell the difference between a true 'message' and a fanatical notion?
7. How can we safeguard ourselves regarding philosophy?
Chapter 14 - Some of Conscience's Instructors: Theology
1. Why do most people live poor, crippled lives?
2. Contrast Jesus's method of teaching with most other methods.
3. Why are our Lord's sayings 'hard' intellectually, as well as morally?
4. 'They sit in darkness.' Who sits in darkness, and why?
5. What harm is there in entertaining questions of criticism?
6. Do we have any indications that we are declining from the knowledge of God?
7. What is the one question that really matters for all of us?
8. When are the little devotional books we use for spiritual stimulation unhealthy?
9. What should we bear in mind regarding the authors of the Scriptures?
10. What should we look for in the lives of men as told in the Bible?
11. How is the revelation contained in the Bible unique?
12. What two laws seem to apply to the revelations that God gives to the world?
13. What should we keep in mind to safeguard us from the 'Lo, here!' of each novel spiritual happening?
14. How will be come to know the difference between the merely human and the inspired elements in the Bible?
15. How can we discern the essential truth in Scripture?
16. How the loss of life that shocks us in some Bible stories paralleled in our own day?
17. How can we explain the mystery of why God allows so many people to die?
18. Why do we need to set aside our prejudices and misconceptions regarding the Bible?
19. What is the penalty for ignorance about God?
20. Explain why the tendency to think of God as a 'permissive' Parent is wrong.
21. Why is every little detail of Jesus that's recorded in the Gospels precious to us?
22. Use any argument you can think of to respond to the statement that 'miracles don't happen.'
23. Show that the words of Jesus are more amazing than the miracles of the Gospels.
24. Why shouldn't we accept the modern tendency to question Resurrection and the Incarnation?
25. What danger is concealed in trivial doubts?
26. How can you explain an attitude that over-analyzes, hyper-scrutinizes and clings to every challenge to the Bible?
Chapter 15 - Some Instructors of Conscience: Nature, Science, Art
1. Show that there is no excuse for ignorance about the things of
2. In what two ways does nature approach us?
3. Explain how nature teaches us our duty towards God.
4. Explain how nature moves us to gratitude.
5. How has our modern preoccupation of mind shut out this teaching from us?
6. What does science teach the conscience?
7. What is the difference between science and scientific information?
8. What duty is laid upon our conscience regarding science?
9. What duty is laid upon our conscience regarding art?
10. What frame of mind should we have when we consider art?
Chapter 16 - Some of Conscience's Teachers: Sociology, Self-Knowledge
1. Why do we need to understand how other people live?
2. Why is casual help usually a hindrance?
3. What are the conditions of helpfulness?
4. What kind of knowledge about ourselves is wisdom?
5. What's so great about human nature?
Chapter 17 - Conviction of Sin
1. What is the conscience's job?
2. What convictions seem to be common to all men?
3. Explain how religion is no substitute for an educated conscience.
4. Name three mental habits that can limit the conscience.
5. Explain how uneasiness of conscience proves that sin is wrong.
6. How do our sins of omission affect us?
7. Explain why the conscience's rebuke is something to be thankful for.
Chapter 18 - Temptation
1. How does temptation come upon us?
2. Where does temptation come from?
3. What is the secret of heroic lives?
4. How is a reliable spirit trained?
5. What is our role in not entering into temptation?
6. Is it possible for penitence to become an obstacle?
7. What is the proper role of penitence?
8. What does, 'I believe in the forgiveness of sins' mean?
Chapter 19 - Duty and Law
1. Why is it wrong to do wrong?
2. What is 'wrong'?
3. In what different ways have people answered these questions?
4. May we excuse wrong-doing because it's 'human nature'?
5. Compare the assured peace of an enlightened Christian conscience with the uneasiness of superstition.
6. Why is it a delight to understand and to fulfil the law?
Part II - The Will
Chapter 1 - The Will-less Life
1. Explain how conscience, love, intellect, reason, can sometimes
behave foolishly and unworthily.
2. What abolity within us has the job of managing the rest?
3. Show that it is possible to live without ever exercising the will.
Chapter 2 - The Will And Willfulness
1. Explain how willful people can have various dispositions.
2. What is the common characteristic of willful people? Give examples.
3. What is the difference between wilfulness and of will?
4. Give some examples from Sir Walter Scott of will-power and wilfulness.
5. Classify some people from literature or history on each side of a dividing line--on one side, the wilful people; on the other, people who use their will.
6. Classify some nations that fall on either side of such a line, and explain why they're on one side or the other.
7. What teaching has weakened the will-power of Western nations?
8. What is Jesus's teaching about the Will?
Chapter 3 - The Will Itself Is Neither Moral Nor Immoral
1. Show that will can be used for good or evil ends.
2. Show that a person of will can use evil means for good ends.
3. What's the difference between 'will' and 'an ideal?'
4. What interesting question does Browning raise about the Will?
5. What distinguishes the quality of a person?
6. What six points were discussed concerning the Will?
Chapter 4 - The Will and Its Friends
1. Explain how the will is subject to appeals.
2. Explain how the Will doesn't act alone.
3. What does the Will need to do?
4. When is the Will exercised, and upon what?
Chapter 5 - The Functions of the Will
1. What is the only power that Mansoul has as a free agent?
2. What is the one thing that the Will is able to do?
3. Why is it increasingly difficult for us to make decisions?
4. What is the danger of ready-made clothes and ready-made opinions?
5. Why may we choose only for ourselves, and not for others?
6. How can you reconcile choice and obedience?
7. What's the difference between obedience that's become a habit, and obedience that's a choice.
8. What is it that we're supposed to choose between?
Chapter 6 - The Scope of the Will
1. Show how allowance often passes for deliberate choosing.
2. Compare the difference between Will and allowance in some circumstance, such as when buying clothes.
3. Do we need to make a deliberate choice of Will for every small occasion?
4. How does the fallacy behind having to have the 'newest and cheapest' lead us astray?
5. What one consummate idea is ours to freely decide?
Chapter 7 - Self-Control, Self-Restraint, Self-Command, Self-Denial
1. What can we say about moral self-improvement for its own sake?
2. How does any obsessive absorption affect others?
3. What's the difference between absorption for a phase, or for a purpose, and self-absorption?
4. Describe a better way than moral self-improvement.
5. Show that what we call 'self-denial' makes it impossible to really love.
6. What kind of self-denial does Jesus require from us?
Chapter 8 - The Effort of Decision
1. How do we try to avoid the effort of making decisions?
2. Sum up the sort of creed that's behind 'Tolerance.'
3. Describe a picture of Ludwig Richter's that shows how 'Providence' and 'freewill' co-operate.
4. How can we tell the difference between a decision of the Will from one of 'making allowances'?
5. A person who uses his Will gathers what two assets during the course of his life?
6. How these serve him in big or little occasions?
Chapter 9 - Intention, Purpose, Resolution
1. Give two or three examples of the sequence ofa resolution.
2. What truth is illustrated by the halos of pictured saints?
3. When does 'influence' become harmful?
4. What sort of influence do we need to safeguard ourselves against?
5. Influence isn't something that comes from how much opportunity a person has, or even how hard they try. Where does our influence stem from?
6. What different acts of the Will are required of us ?
Chapter 10 - A Way Of The Will
1. Sum up what we know about the Will from our reading so far.
2. What advice is there for good-intentioned people who dread temptation?
3. Which gate needs to be guarded?
4. Who are the gate-keepers on guard?
5. Should we fight or run away?
6. What can the will do in times of temptation?
7. Show that the same weapon (what weapon?) applies to intellectual and moral enemy idea.
8. Show how Jesus's condemnation of fallacies proves that opinions should be selected on the basis of moral considerations.
Chapter 11 - Freewill
1. Why is it important to know as much as we can about the behavior of
2. Sum up the sixteen, or so, points we have tried to make so far.
3. Tell the difference between a person of determined Will and a conventional/mainstream person.
4. What are the only two services that man can choose between?
5. What can we discern about a person of good-will?
6. What did Tennyson say about our Wills?
Part III - The Soul
Chapter 1 - What The Soul is Capable Of
1. 'Sometimes we doubt whether we're finite creatures.' Give four or
five reasons why.
2. Explain how our religious thinking has become so poor and ordinary that it colors the way we interpret religion.
3. How are our Soul's needs satisfied by God alone?
Chapter 2 - The Disabilities Of The Soul
1. What are some of the persistent obstacles and deep-rooted
diseases of the Soul?
2. How can we tell if our Soul is lazy?
3. What is the cure for this laziness?
4. How does preoccupation affect our relationship with God?
5. Show how our involuntary aversion to God can actually be useful to us.
6. What's the difference between voluntary and involuntary aversion?
7. What the important deliberate choice we make with our Will?
Chapter 3 - The Knowledge of God
1. Under what condition can we have the one satisfying intimacy?
2. Who is this intimacy available to?
3. What are some ways that this divine friendship touches us?
4. Name some of the first ways that we sometimes gain knowledge of God.
5. Explain why the Bible is the immediate source of this kind of knowledge.
6. How is the Bible different from other great ancient writings?
7. Show how proper and necessary the knowledge of God is to the Soul of man.
8. Is this knowledge inevitable?
Chapter 4 - Prayer
1. Describe some of the expressions of spontaneous prayer.
2. What are some of our responses to these?
3. What two requirements of the soul are thus met?
4. What are some of the times and occasions for habitual prayer?
5. How can we serve the world with our habitual prayers?
Chapter 5 - Thanksgiving
1. What things make us hesitate to express the gratitude we owe?
2. 'My Soul rises and sees' what reasons to be thankful?
3. For what, besides our food, should we express thanks?
4. Why does it matter whether we thank God?
Chapter 6 - Praise
1. Explain how praise implies more than thanksgiving.
2. Who do we tend think of as being endowed with the right to praise God?
3. Explain why praise is our duty just as much as theirs.
4. Name some reasons that the Psalmist found to praise.
5. Who today especially gives us new reasons to praise?
Chapter 7 - Faith in God
1. Why do we find it frustrating to be told we need to 'just believe'
2. How does faith come?
3. Explain how people have faith in each other.
4. What are the two sorts of faith that people can have?
5. Explain why we owe both kinds of faith to God.
6. How can we know if we have the faith of love?
7. Explain how faith is an act of will.
8. Show that believing in God is a duty that's required of us.
9. Is this duty fulfilled by serving our fellow man?
10. Explain how no article of the Apostles' Creed is supposed to appeal to our Reason.
11. Explain how all the great things of life also are mysteries.
12. Explain how Christianity means a relationship with Jesus.