Again he said to her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man does come and inquire of you, and say…
A human being has his destiny, in some measure, in his own hands, depending on his own voluntary determinations. We cannot define exactly the limits of the province of free-will, but that it has a province, and an important one, all consciousness attests. It is true that man, like the animals and the vegetables, is subject to those laws of his being which he had no choice in enacting, and to the outside influences which he does not invite, and they must needs go far towards deciding his character. But not exclusively. He can enact laws for himself, impose actions upon himself, and, what it is our business to consider now, he possesses a certain qualified, but real veto-power. He can, to a large extent, not suppress, but repress and hold in check, some of the laws and tendencies and demands of his own nature. And he can, in a degree, reject outside influences and solicitations, push them aside, defy them, avert them. He can veto them, can say "No" to them. And according as he says it, and says it on right occasions, says it promptly, decisively, he maintains the splendid self-sovereignty of manhood. A brave, frequent, and absolute exercise of the veto-power with which he is endowed, is one of the fixed conditions of success and honour in the world, of self-respect and dignity of character, of harmony with God and the happiness of life.
I. THE EXERCISE OF THIS SUPREME POWER IN REFERENCE TO THE TENDENCIES AND INCLINATIONS WITHIN ONE'S SELF. There are tendencies and appetites in every man which, if allowed a free course and full swing, would drag him in the mire and hurry him to his ruin. The meanest of them has slain its thousands. So mean and paltry an appetite as that for stimulating drink counts its victims by millions, and our nature is largely made up of such dangerous proclivities, some inborn and some acquired. There is in man, also, a certain inscrutable, central authority, the mysterious Ego, the indefinable "I myself," whose office is to watch over these necessary but dangerous members of the internal commonwealth, and keep them to their limits, and say, "No" to each and all their demands for undue power and over-indulgence. No man can live at all without exerting this power at some points; and no man can live nobly, and to the highest purposes of his being, without exerting it constantly, at all points, and with absolute supremacy. In the biographies of all persons eminent for character and achievement, you will notice how they have striven to acquire perfectly this form of self-mastery. What ingenious devices and shrewd practices they have resorted to, to this end. In some ages, what fasts and penances and seclusions and all forms of asceticisms, and in all ages what vigorous efforts, what watchfulness, and what contrivances and habits of self-discipline, whereby they might be able with promptitude and effect to say "No" to any tendency that is getting too strong, and any desire that is too clamorous! And success in that is their salvation, the open secret of their success in their high aims, and the glory of their lives.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND EVENTS AROUND US. These are very powerful, seemingly irresistible often. They claim to take full possession of a man, to carry him whither they will, and make of him what they will. They seem to say to him, "We are a part of the irresistible order of nature; we move according to the eternal laws; we represent the forces of the universe; we come backed by the omnipotence of the Creator. What can you, poor, puny mortal, do in resistance to our overwhelming might? A pitiful speck of being as you are, an evanescent bubble on this vast sea of matter and force, what is there for you but to drift whithersoever we may carry you, and sink where we drop you?" But not so, thou majestic universe, bearing upon man as you do with all your infinite might in the events and circumstances around us — not so! The soul in man, that mysterious essence, whose very existence you bring into question, is in its rightful province a match for you, can resist you, set you aside, say "No" to you, and in the ethereal, Godlike power it is endowed with, and with the humility of a little child, make good its audacious defiance. The brave but wary seaman knows the tremendous power of an adverse wind, a power that nothing can withstand, knows it and respects it, yet he is master of the situation. He can anchor in the roadstead, and look the very hurricane in the face, and let it blow. He will not budge. He can wait. That force will be spent before his will be. He will yet lay his course right along the pathway of the storm, and he does, and makes his voyage triumphantly. Or in another ease he refuses to drift with it. He will move right on against the opposing force, and never stop a moment, nor furl his sails; he must beat, go zigzag, tediously, but he gets on against it, and if need be, he will make the entire Atlantic voyage without one favourable breeze, with hard struggles but no yielding, delayed but not defeated. So in all human life. The power of circumstances must be respected, and dealt with valiantly but warily. The true man will accommodate himself to them, and yet refuse to drift with them; nay, will circumvent them, outwatch them, and make them serve his purpose. They may delay him, but not turn him back; discourage him, but not pluck heart of hope out of him. They may change his direction, but not stop his progress. They may change the form of his duty, but cannot hinder doing. They may combine to tempt and assail his integrity or purity, but if he say in God's name, "No!" they cannot touch it.
III. IT IS MOST PRACTICAL TO CONSIDER THE EXERCISE OF THIS VETO-POWER IN REFUSING THE REQUESTS OF OTHER PERSONS. There are always about us those who ask us or propose to us to do things that we ought not or had better not do. And such is the strength of the social tie, and so potent the influence of another's desire, that there is always a disposition to comply, and an amiable disposition it is in itself. But it is often very misleading, and sometimes fatal to honour and integrity, to purity and peace and every sacred interest of life. Many a youth and many a man, not depraved, but simply weak and unestablished, has thus been led to his ruin, out of mere good-natured compliance and the difficulty of refusing a solicitation. Balancing between good and evil, with the promise and possibility of the best, he has gone to the bad, because he could not, or felt that he could not, say, "No!" The dangerous tendencies that are in him, and that are in everybody, acquire tenfold power when reinforced by the importunity of a friendly companion to join him in giving way to them. That little off-hand suit, "Come along," coupled with the suggestion, "What's the harm?" or "Who will know it?" or "Just this once," or "Don't be a coward," we cannot tell how many it leads astray every day, initiates in the downward path, and that too when every instinct of the conscience, every sentiment of honour, every affection of their heart, and every hope of their lives, is breathing its protest, and would hold them back. If all those hesitating consents could now be recalled, that fatal compliance reversed, and it should be as if the rightful refusals had been spoken in place of them, what blessed results should we see. Oh, learn betimes to say, "No!" when you know you ought to say it. Fear not the sneers of the evil-disposed, the corrupt, or the merely thoughtless, but fear rather the anguish and tears of those who love you, the strings of your conscience, and the displeasure of your God. Be prompt and strong to say, "No!" when you ought, and your better nature bids you, and so march on through your career in safety, honour, and peace. And it is not only to the solicitations or the suggestions that would lead us in fatal directions, into enslaving vices, or the outright sacrifice of truth, honour, and purity that we need to exercise this great prerogative of downright refusal in the thick of this our social city life, we have need to exercise it daily, and almost hourly, in respect to requests and invitations that have no bad intent, but are meant in courtesy and kindness, and that in other circumstances, and at other times, might be complied with in all propriety. We need, on moral grounds, to guard with some jealousy our personal independence, and let nobody unduly or unreasonably invade it. We cannot afford to hold ourselves, our time, faculties, thoughts, or even sympathies, entirely at the beck and call even of the best people or of the kindest-meaning friends. That high independence which never hesitates to say, "No" whenever and to whomsoever it should be said commands respect. It is a chief element of all nobleness and strength of character. It is essential to feminine dignity, and to the highest manhood. It makes you worth seeking, and causes your refusals to be better taken than the loose assents of those facile persons who from sheer weakness in the fibre and the making up of their character can never say, "No!" or say it as if guilty of an offence and fearful of your displeasure.
Parallel VersesKJV: Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.