Concerning the Will by Hannah Whitall Smith

Chapter 1

When the child of God has, by entire abandonment and absolute trust, stepped opt of himself into Christ, and has begun to know something of the blessedness of the life hid with Christ in God, there is one form of difficulty which is especially likely to start up in his path. After the first emotions of peace and rest have somewhat subsided, or if, as is sometimes the case, they have never seemed to come at all, he begins to feel such an utter unreality in the things he has been passing through, that he seems to himself like a hypocrite, when he says or even thinks they are real. It seems to him that his belief does not go below the surface; that it is a mere lip-belief, and therefore of no account, and that the surrender is not a surrender of the heart, and therefore cannot be acceptable to God. He is afraid to say he is altogether the Lord’s, for fear he will be telling an untruth; and yet he cannot bring himself to say he is not, because he longs for it so intensely. The difficulty is real and very disheartening.

But there is nothing here which will not be very easily overcome, when the Christian once thoroughly understands the principles of the new life, and has learned how to live in it. The common thought is that this life hid with Christ in God is to be lived in the emotions, and consequently all the attention of the soul is directed toward them, and as they are satisfactory or otherwise, the soul rests or is troubled. Now, the truth is, that this life is not to be lived in the emotions at all, but in the will; and therefore, if only the will is kept steadfastly abiding in its centre, God’s will, the varying states of emotion do not in the least disturb or affect the reality of the life.

To make this plain, I must enlarge a little. Fenelon says, somewhere, that, “pure religion resides in thd. will alone.” By this he means that, as the will is the governing power in the man’s nature, if the will is set right, all the rest of the nature must come into harmony. By the will, I do not mean the wish of the man, or even his purpose, but the deliberate choice, the deciding power, the king, to which all that is in the man must yield obedience. It is the man, in short, the “Ego,” that which we feel to be ourselves.

It is sometimes thought that the emotions are the governing power in our nature. But I think we all of us know, as a matter of practical experience, that there is something within us, behind our emo” tions and behind our wishes, an independent self, that, after all, decides everything and controls everything. Our emotions belong to us, and are suffered and enjoyed by us, but they are not ourselves; and if God is to take possession of us, it must be into this central will or personality He enters. If, then, He is reigning there by the power cf His Spirit, all the rest of our nature must come under His sway; and as the will is, so is the man.

The practical bearing of this truth upon the difficulty I am considering is very great. For the decisions of our will are often so directly opposed to the decisions of our emotions, that, if we are in the habit of considering our emotions as the test, we shall be very apt to feel like hypocrites in declaring those things to be real which our will alone has decided. But the moment we see that the will is king, we shall utterly disregard anything that clamors against it, and shall claim as real its decisions, let the emotions rebel as they may.

I am aware that this is a difficult subject to deal with; but it is so exceedingly practical in its bearing upon the life of faith, that I beg of you, dear readers, not to turn from it until you have mastered it.

Perhaps an illustration will help you. A young man of great intelligence, seeking to enter into this new life, was utterly discouraged at finding himself the slave to an inveterate habit of doubting. To his emotions nothing seemed true, nothing seemed real; and the more he struggled, the more unreal did it all become. He was told this secret concerning the will: that if he would only put his will over on the believing side, if he would choose to believe, if, in short, he would in this Ego of his nature say, “I will believe! I do believe!” he need not then trouble about his emotions, for they would find themselves compelled, sooner or later, to come into harmony. “What!” he said, “do you mean to tell me that I can choose to believe in that bald way, when nothing seems true to me? And will that kind of believing be real?” “Yes,” was the answer; “it will. Fenelon says that true religion resides in the will alone; and he means that, since a man’s will is really the man’s self, of course, what his will does, he does. Your part then is simply to put your will, in this matter of believing, over on God’s side, making up your mind that you will believe what He says, because He says it, and that you will not pay any regard to the feelings that make it seem so unreal. God will not fail to respond, sooner or later, with His revelations to such a faith.”

The young man paused a moment, and then said solemnly, “I understand, and I will do what you say. I cannot control my emotions, but I can control my will; and the new life begins to look possible to me, if it is only my will that needs to be set straight in the matter. I can give my will to God, and I do!”

From that moment, disregarding all the pitiful clamoring of his emotions, which continually accused him of being a wretched hypocrite, this young man held on steadily to the decision of his will, answering every accusation with the continued sertion that he chose to believe, he meant to bee, he did believe; until at the end of a few days ^Saund himself triumphant, with every emotion

every thought brought into captivity to the er of the Spirit of God, who had taken possesof the will thus put into His hands. He had fast the profession of his faith without waveralthough it had seemed to him that, as the real faith itself, he had none to hold fast. At times it had drained all the will-power he possessed, to his lips, to say that he believed, so contrary was it to all the evidence of his senses or of his emotions. But he had caught the idea that his will was, after all, himself, and that if he kept that on God’s side, he was doing all he could do, and that God alone could change his emotions or control his being. The result has been one of the grandest Christian lives I know of, in its marvellous simplicity, directness, and power over sin.

The secret lies just here,—that our will, which is the spring of all our actions, has been in the past under the control of sin and self, and these have worked in us all their own good pleasure. But now God calls upon us to yield our wills up unto Him, that He may take the control of them, and may work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. If we will obey this call, and present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, He will take possession of our surrendered wills, and will begin at once to work in us “that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ,” giving us the mind that was in Christ, and transforming us into His image (see Rom. xii. i, 2).

Let us take another illustration. A lady who had entered into this life hid with Christ, was confronted by a great prospective trial. Every emotion she had within her rose up in rebellion against it; and had she considered her emotions to be her king, she would have been in utter despair. But she had learned this secret of, the will, and knowing that, at the bottom, she herself did really choose the will of God for her portion, she did not pay the slightest attention to her emotions, but persisted in meeting every thought concerning the trial with the words, repeated over and over, “Thy will be done! Thy will be done!” asserting, in the face of all her rebelling feelings, that she did submit her will to God’s, that she chose to submit it, and that His will should be and was her delight! The result was that in an incredibly short space of time every thought was brought into captivity, and she began to find even her very emotions rejoicing in the will of God.

Again, there was a lady who had a besetting sin, which in her emotions she dearly loved, but which in her will she hated. Believing herself to be necessarily under the control of her emotions, she had fully supposed she was unable to conquer it, unless her emotions should first be changed. But she learned this secret concerning the will, and going to her closet she said, “Lord, thou seest that with my emotions I love this sin, but in my real central self I hate it. Until now my emotions have had the mastery; but now I put my will into Thy hands, and give it up to Thy working. I will never again consent in my will to yield to this sin. Take possession of my will, and work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure.”

Immediately she began to find deliverance. The Lord took possession of the will thus surrendered to Himself, and began to work in her by His own power, so that His will in the matter gained the mastery over her emotions, and she found herself delivered, not by the power of an outward commandment, but by the inward power of the Spirit of God, “working in her that which was well pleasing in His sight.”

And now, dear Christian, let me show you how to apply this principle to your difficulties. Cease to consider your emotions, for they are only the servants; and regard simply your will, which is the real king in your being. Is that given up to God? Is that put into His hands? Does your will decide to believe? Does your will choose to obey? If this is the case, then yon are in the Lord’s hands, and you decide to believe, and you choose to obey; for your will is yourself. And the thing is done. The transaction with God is as real, when only your will acts, as where every emotion coincides. It does not seem as real to you; but in God’s sight it is as real. And when you have got hold of this secret, and have discovered that you need not attend to your emotions, but simply to the state of your will, all the Scripture commands, to yield yourself to God, to present yourself a living sacrifice to Him, to abide in Christ, to walk in the light, to die to self, become possible to you; for you are conscious that in all these your will can act, and can take God’s side; whereas, if it had been your emotions that must do it, you would, knowing them to be utterly uncontrollable, sink down in helpless despair.

When, then, this feeling of unreality or hypocrisy comes, do not be troubled by it. It is only in your emotions, and is not worth a moment’s thought. Only see to it that your will is in God’s hands, that your inward self is abandoned to His working, that your choice, your decision, is on His side; and there leave it. Your surging emotions, like a tossing vessel at anchor, which by degrees yields to the steady pull of the cable, finding themselves attached to the mighty power of God by the choice of your will, must inevitably come into captivity, and give in their allegiance to Him; and you will sooner or later verify the truth of the saying, that, “if any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.”

The will is like a wise mother in a nursery; the feelings are like a set of clamoring, crying children. The mother makes up her mind to a certain course of action which she believes to be right and best. The children clamor against it and declare it shall not be. But the mother, knowing that she is mistress and not they, pursues her own course lovingly and calmly in spite of all their clamors; and the result is that the children are sooner or later won over to the mother’s course of action, and fall in with her decisions, and all is harmonious and happy. But if that mother should for a moment let in the thought that the children were the masters instead of herself, confusion would reign unchecked. And in how many souls at this very moment is there nothing but confusion, simply because the feelings are allowed to govern, instead of the will.

Remember, then, that the real thing in your experience is what your will decides, and not the verdict of your emotions; and that you are far more in danger of hypocrisy and untruth in yielding to the assertions of your feelings than in holding fast to the decision of your will. So that, if your will is on God’s side, you are no hypocrite at this moment in claiming as your own the blessed reality of belonging altogether to Him, even though your emotions may all declare the contrary.

I am convinced that throughout the Bible the expressions concerning the “heart” do not mean the emotions, that which we now understand by the word “heart,” but they mean the will, the personality of the man, the man’s own central self; and that the object of God’s dealing with man is that this “I” may be yielded up to Him, and this central life abandoned to His entire control. It is not the feelings of the man God wants, but the man himself.

But do not let us make a mistake here. I say we must “give up” our wills, but I do not mean we are to be left will-less. We are not so to give up our will as to be left like limp, nerveless creatures, without any will at all. We are simply to substitute for our foolish, misdirected wills of ignorance and immaturity, the higher, divine, nature will of God. If we lay the emphasis on the word “our,” we shall understand it better. The will we are to give up is our will, as it is misdirected, and so parted off from God’s will, not our will when it is one with God’s will; for when our will is in harmony with His will, when it has the stamp of oneness with Him, it would be wrong for us to give it up.

The child is required to give up the misdirected will that belongs to it as a child, and we cannot let it say, “I will” or “I will not;” but when its will is in harmony with ours, we want it to say “I will” or “I will not” with all the force of which it is capable.

When God is “working in us to will,” we must set our faces like a flint to carry out this will, and must respond with an emphatic “I will” to every “Thou Shalt” of His. For God can only carry out His own will with us as we consent to it, and will in harmony with Him.

Have you thus consented, dear reader, and is your face set as a flint to will what God wills? He wills that you should be entirely surrendered to Him, and that you should trust Him perfectly. Do you will the same?

Again I repeat, it is all in the will. Fenelon says, “The will to love God is the whole of religion.” If, therefore, you have in your will taken the steps of surrender and faith, it is your right to believe even now, no matter how much your feelings may clamor against it, that you are all the Lord’s, and that He has begun to “work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

After this chapter was first written some years ago, the following remarkable practical illustration of its teaching was handed to me by Pasteur Theodore Monod, of Paris. It is the experience of a Presbyterian minister, which this Pasteur had carefully kept for many years:—

Newburgh, Sept. 26, 1842.

Dear Brother:—I take a few moments of that time which I have devoted to the Lord, in writing a short epistle to you, His servant. It is sweet to feel we are wholly the Lord’s, that He has received us and called us His. This is religion, a relinquishment of the principle of selfownership, and the adoption in full of the abiding sentiment, “I am not my own, I am bought with a price.” Since I last saw you I have been pressing forward, and yet there has been nothing remarkable in my experience, of which I can speak; indeed, I do not know that it is best to look for remarkable things; but strive to be holy, as God is holy, pressing right on toward the mark of the prize.

I do not feci myself qualified to instruct you; I can only tell you the way in which I was led. The Lord deals differently with different souls, and we ought not to attempt to copy the experience of others; yet there are certain things that must be attended to by every one who is seeking after a clean heart.

There must be a personal consecration of all to God; a covenant made with God that we will be wholly and forever His. This I made intellectually, without any change in my feelings, with a heart full of hardness and darkness, unbelief and sin and insensibility.

I covenanted to be the Lord’s, and laid all upon the altar, a living sacrifice, to the best of my ability. And after I rose from my knees I was conscious of no change in my feelings. I was painfully conscious that there was no change. But yet I was sure that I did, with all the sincerity and honesty of purpose of which I was capable, make an entire and eternal consecration of myself to God. I did not then consider the work as done by any means, but I engaged to abide in a state of entire devotion to God, a living perpetual sacrifice. And now came the effort to do this.

I knew also that I must believe that God did accept me, and did come to dwell in my heart. I was conscious I did not believe this, and yet I desired to do so. I read with much prayer John’s first epistle, and endeavored to assure my heart of God’s love to me as an individual. I was sensible that my heart was full of evil. I seemed to have no power to overcome pride, or to repel evil thoughts which I abhorred. But Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, and it was clear that the sin in my heart was the work of the devil. I was enabled, therefore, to believe that God was working in me to will and to do, while I was working out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

I was convinced of unbelief, that it made the faithful God a liar. The Lord brought before me my besetting sins which had dominion over me, especially preaching myself instead of Christ, and indulging in self-complacent thoughts after preaching. I was enabled to make myself of no reputation, and to seek the honor which cometh from God only. Satan struggled hard to beat me back from the Rock of Ages; but thanks to God, I finally hit upon the method of living by the moment, and then I found rest.

The Lord, I think, is beginning to revive His work among my people. “Praise the Lord!” May the Lord fill you with all his fulness, and give you all the mind of Christ. Oh, be faithful! Walk before God and be perfect. Preach the Word. Be instant in season and out of season. The Lord loves you. He works with you. Rest your soul fully upon that promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Your fellow-soldier,

William Hill.

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