Thursday, April 1, 2010

the sweet charities of life...

Edmund Sears gets to the heart of the matter in the conclusion of his sermon "The Will-Power." I have found that many in the UU community are resistant to the idea of the surrender of our wills. Brother Sears shows why it is the essential thing...

"III. All the dangers I have described we avoid when the human will is merged and lost in the Divine. Two things are essential to this, the surrender of all things, and receiving them back again as no longer ours. The former is the hardest thing the Christian has to do. It is the Gethsemane through which he passes on his way to Mount Ascension. It is the real Lenten season, and unless his forty days' fastings betoken this, they are nothing but dietary rules, and will be followed by no Easter morning. I fear there is not much of this giving up without some secret reservations. These secret reservations are the source of all your halting and weakness... But when my opinions, my pleasures, my gains, my righteousness, and all that makes up my personality as a responsible being, are brought in entire surrender to the Divine will and then received back again, a higher will than mine sways me henceforth, as the current sways the lily on its bosom. To make us do this the whole plan of Providence is arranged. It is to break down wilfulness, that the Divine will-power may take its place, and to this end sometimes He smites us blow after blow, before He can crush it down. Sometimes it takes years to break it, and sometimes like an anvil it grows harder under the strokes. Very often the spirit is broken when the will is not given up at all. Very often, too, the will is weakly given up to a fellow mortal, but no whit of it surrendered to God. Very often it yields to the tempter when it will not yield to the Lord, and becomes weak as a palsied limb. But when it does yield to Him, perfectly, and without any reserve, another will is received in its place. It is not mine, and I know in my deepest consciousness that it is God moved into the soul, and seeking to be realized in all my speech and actions. There it is always present, and I can feel its motions and its thrills of pleasure or of pain. The Christian who has once given up all things and received them back, has an experience answering somewhat to that of the Master himself. "All thine are mine, and mine are thine, and thou art glorified in them." Two things immediately follow. First, wilfulness, which is but a poor aping of conscientiousness, immediately disappears. In things merely personal and non-essential, we can be as pliant and yielding as a little child. And here comes in the full scope and exercise of all that class of virtues which worldly men sometimes mistake for pusillanimity, — meekness, gentleness, deference, and the sweet charities and amenities of life. These come as the manifestations of the Divine within us, just as his great power around us runs down into the smallest channels, and hangs leaves and blossoms on the smallest stems, and threads them with pencillings finer than the artist can copy. Hence the contradictions of the Christian character are apparent and not real. Under the most of yielding and gentleness and many-sidedness, which the Apostle describes as " all things to all men," the will-determinations may be the strongest and most absolute. Wilfulness runs into obstinacy on things indifferent. The will, absorbed in the Divine, can yield as God yields, bending to occasions and changes with myriad-minded goodness, because there is an unchanging purpose within the whole. From our reception of the Divine will we bend with gentle adaptations to the peace, the comfort, and even the whims and caprices of our fellows, so far as the unchanging purpose is not hurt nor compromised. But within the non-essential and in things that pertain to justice, mercy, and essential truth, we are made strong in God's Omnipotence. God is omnipotent in and through us, for his will is done an earth as it is in heaven. Hence the Gospel contrasts. In the depths of humiliation, " Not my will but thine; " in the heights of exaltation, " All power is given me in heaven and on the earth."

There is only one remedy for those whose will is wayward or whose power of virtue is broken down. Outward props will not avail. Legal restraints and prudential motives will not avail. These have been tried again and again, and in such cases always in vain. There is no human help when the awful power of will has been undermined, except as human help may be a guide to something higher than itself. But there is Divine help, and out of it on men once lying prone and helpless have been wrought the greatest miracles on record. Augustine was gone clean down in vice when God laid hold of him and lifted him up and put a new will into him, and he stands like a peak of granite for the centuries to date from. So the weakest will of the most wayward among you, if you would give it up to Him without reservations, would be returned to you infrangible as adamant. But to gain this you must go down with Jesus into the shades of Gethsemane, and watch with Him and suffer with Him where self lies prone and bleeding, till its surrender is complete and the angel's face beams through the shadows from above. And then the shadows of the Lenten days are fringed already with the Ascension glories."


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