1 Corinthians 7:32-40
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord…
What is your conception of the best manhood? Clearly, there may be various conceptions of it, each with much to say for itself. One may think to discover it in the domain of mind, where the mellow and perfect culture of a vigorous understanding claims and wins homage. Another detects it in physical beauty and vigour, and in that delightful condition of body which makes it the obedient and ready organ of the spirit. Another, again, finds it in the moral nature of man. The best is the manliest. The purest, gentlest, kindest, truest, tenderest; he is the most worthy, and therefore the most admirable. But surely our text has the real key to the question. It is in the quality, and use, and dominance of the will that the test of manhood is to be discovered. It has been well said that every act is made up of a purpose, a method, and a power. But the purpose comes first. Also, what is true of an act is doubly true of a life. If the will is the mechanical force of the soul, before all things let it be strong. Only a strong will can make a strong man. If the will initiates action in purposing it, it must persevere in it for the accomplishing of the purpose; and, perhaps, even more needful than the volition that starts an act is the firmness that stays. What we all want in life is staying power. The beginning of the race is brisk, facile, and pleasant; but it needs more than high spirits and a vivid fancy to go on to the far end. See, oh, clearly see, that it is not from force of will, so much as from weakness of it, that the world breeds its miseries and its failures. Of course a strong will misdirected is bad. The apostle, you observe, is careful to add "his own will." Perhaps in nothing is a real man's individuality so marked as in his own will. Each man, as says Shelley, must "be himself alone," and he is most specifically himself by his will. If it deserves the name, your will differs from mine, and every other man's, in its surroundings, its flexibility, and original force; and we have to do the best with it that we can. For if you say, as well you may, is not will an inheritance by birth, God's original gift, as much as brain, or animal strength, or those surroundings which make such a difference in our start — I say, in a degree, yes: but not so as to justify us in a base despair because our pound is but one, when our neighbour has five. Like memory, like reason, like the brain itself, which they say grows all through a man's life with the steady work that does it honour, it is made stronger by regular, definite, and repeated use. Then there is the control of the will, which St. Paul describes as power over it, or as the Revised Version gives it, power touching it. To rule the will, we must first consecrate it, in surrendering it with the entire being which it both commands and energises at the footstool of the most high God. You remember of Him, who lived as no other man lived, and died as no other man died, what He said about His will — His human will — a will like yours and mine, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." To give our will back, up to Him who has bestowed it upon us, with its terrible honourable freedom, is at once our dignity and our blessedness. Our dignity, because thereby we recognise the Divine Fatherhood, and plead our own sonship, as the children of God. Our blessedness, for sometimes the noblest use of liberty is to surrender it: and what St. James calls the perfect law of liberty, is only learnt in the school of love. "Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price. Wherefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." To rule it, again, implies that we use it. By using it I mean giving it a first place in the continuous activities of life; not only about plans, but about details; not only for what gets credit, but for what no one sees but God; not only for the problems of the thinker, but for the homely plodding tasks of the honest student, who wanting but his degree, sees Alps that he must climb before he can reach it, yes means to reach it. Not for any one department, or corner, or phase, or period of life, but for the whole. A strong man resolves, sometimes it must be admitted with precipitateness, and an incomplete knowledge of resources. Then he suffers, and perhaps others as well. But is it not far better in the end to suffer for over-much doing — a rare fault, and one which has a knack of taking its own cure with it — than to suffer for too little doing, which usually results, if not in a paralysis of our finer powers, certainly in a deterioration of them? and it is deterioration, so subtle, so easy, so rapid, so hidden, that we all of us, but especially those who are in the autumn of our years, have so much to dread. Power over the will also means the regulating it, in its impulses, prejudices and resolves. By impulse I mean its first ideas and stirrings, which if not watched and restrained will sometimes land us in inextricable disaster. Prejudice it must examine and allow for; neither ignore, nor too much dread. Every intelligent human being is constantly and inevitably storing up in his mind those final and essential and condensed results of his past, which tend, and ought to tend, to bias him in this direction rather than that; and which swaying conduct with an invisible but potent influence, a wise man will recognise and make allowance for, just as the navigator of an iron vessel is careful to have his compasses verified before he goes to sea; then goes, and feels safe. Intention, too, needs regulating, sometimes in the way not only of modifying it, but even of surrendering it, should altered circumstances make it expedient. Self-will has nothing strong about it, though it affects, and even caricatures, firmness. But what is the area of this will over which we are to claim and exercise power? First, it moves about faith; for if St. Paul be correct, both the will in God and the will in man have a concurrent share in what touches our salvation — salvation being a condition of the entire being, and not only one part of it; as much of the intellect which ponders and accepts truth, as of the conscience that feels after righteousness. Let us instantly admit that the will must not be suffered an undue preponderance in the dealings of the mind, with what we call revelation. Our first question is not what do I wish truth to be, but what truth is actually found to be; not what I hope can be proved, but what by the evidence suitable to the question is capable of proof. Keep your will set on truth; still seek it, desire it, wait for it, pray for it, more than for your necessary food. Do not despise it as if it was not worth waiting for; do not despair about it, as if it would never come. Then for culture is not the will required to keep men from dreaming, instead of thinking; to stir this one to study, that one to ambition? Surely will has its place here, with its function of selection, and its duty of application, with its aim in concentration, and with its reward in power. Once more, see what the will has to do with character. An apostle of culture, who describes Salvation as "a harmonious perfection only to be won by unreservedly cultivating many sides in us," admits that "conduct, not culture, is three parts of human life." If there is one rule more than another that I wish to leave in your minds it is the will for goodness. The one sentence that I impress on you about it is "to keep yourselves unspotted from the world." Remember how all grossness and self-indulgence go to weaken the physical powers, and degrade your personal dignity, and wait for their implacable revenge, when the autumn of life arrives, and, almost worst of all, spoil that fine instinctive sense of goodness which is the reward of a soul that has never stained its whiteness, which goes, never quite to come back even after years of devotedness and sanctity: and so with all the power of your will, and with all the passion of your heart, and with all the conviction of your reason, and with all the weight of your conscience, say, when the tempter comes — I may not, I must not, I will not, I cannot, for am not I the child of God, the brother of Jesus Christ? Lastly, the will of the Father, the will of the Son, the will of the Holy Ghost are all for you. The will of the Father about you and your life in front will open out in the way of His providence as the years go on. Trust it. The will of His Son, Jesus Christ; is for you. From His place of glory He looks down and thinks of you all, some with fear, some with delight — all with unspeakable love. His will is to bless you. Is it your will to be blessed? And the will of the Holy Ghost is to give you strength, to sanctify you in body, soul, and spirit, and dignify and irradiate your studies with His divine presence, to stir your thirst for knowledge — all knowledge — but supremely that which manifests the face of God. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." And then this power over your own will shall mean in a perfect and joyous freedom the service of men and the fruition of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: