” … I believe, the first work that God puts forth upon the soul in order to its conversion, is, to raise up a spiritual light within it, to clear up its apprehensions about spiritual matters, so as to enable the soul to look upon God as the chiefest good, and the enjoyment of him as the greatest bliss: whereby the soul may clearly discern between good and evil, and evidently perceive, that nothing is good, but so far as it is like to God; and nothing evil, but so far as it resembles sin.
But this is not all the work that God hath to do upon a sinful soul, to bring it to himself; for though I must confess that in natural things, the will always follows the ultimate dictates of the understanding, so as to choose and embrace what the understanding represents to it, under the comely dress of good and amiable, and to refuse and abhor whatever, under the same representation, appears to be evil and dangerous; I say, though I must confess, it is so in natural, yet I believe, it is not so in spiritual matters. For, though the understanding may have never such clear apprehensions of spiritual good, yet the will is not at all affected with it, without the joint operations of the grace of God upon us; all of us too sadly experiencing what St. Paul long ago bewailed in himself, that what we do, we allow not,’ that though our judgments condemn what we do, yet we cannot choose but do it; though our understandings clearly discover to us the excellence of grace and glory, yet our wills overpowered with their own corruptions, are strangely hurried into sin and misery, I must confess, it is a truth which I should scarcely have ever believed, if I had not such daily experience of it: but, alas! there is scarce an hour in the day, but. I may go about lamenting, with Medea in Seneca, Video meliora, proboque; deteriora sequor; though I see what is good, yea, and judge it to be the better, yet I very often choose the worse.
And the reason of it is, because, as by our fall from God, the whole soul was desperately corrupted; so it is not the rectifying of one faculty, which can make the whole straight; but as the whole was changed from holiness to sin, so must the whole be changed again from sin to holiness, before it can be inserted into a state of grace, or so much as an act of grace to be exerted by it.
Now, therefore, the understanding and will being two distinct faculties, or, at least two distinct acts in the soul, it is impossible for the understanding to be so enlightened, as to prefer the good before the evil, and yet for the will to remain so corrupt, as to choose the evil before the good. And hence it is, that where God intends to work over a soul to himself, he doth not only pass an enlightening act upon the understanding and its apprehensions, but likewise a sanctifying act upon the will and its affections, that when the soul perceives the glory of God, and the beauty of holiness, it may presently close with, and entertain it with the choicest of its affections. And without God’s thus drawing it, the understanding could never allure the soul to good.
… I am sure, to say none shall be saved, but those that will of themselves, would be sad news for me, whose will is naturally so backward to every thing that is good. But this is my comfort, I am as certain, my salvation is of God, as I am certain it cannot be of myself. It is Christ who vouchsafed to die for me, who hath likewise promised to live within me: it is he that will work all my works, both for me and in me too. In a word, it is to him I am beholden, not only for my spiritual blessings and enjoyments, but even for my temporal ones too, which, in and through his name, I daily put up my petitions for. So that I have not so much as a morsel of bread, in mercy, from God, but only upon the account of Christ: not a drop of drink, but what flows to me in his blood. It is he that is the very blessing of all my blessings, without whom my very mercies would prove but curses, and my prosperity would but work my ruin.
William Beveridge, “ARTICLE VIII”, Title: Private Thoughts Upon Religion and a Christian Life; to which is Added the Necessity and Advantage of Frequent Communion. Volume I.
William Beveridge (1637 – 1708) was an Anglican bishop. Here we have a bishop who says he frequently chooses the worse in moral choices every hour, and “wills overpowered with their own corruptions, are strangely hurried into sin and misery.” His will is backward to everything that is good! A bishop saying this! What a scandal!
This is the Christian life. To understand that we are in bondage to sin. To observe that we frequently choose bad things. That to have a mind filled with conflicting thoughts, half of them evil, is not some rare malady of the vilest people, it is simply the human condition. This is the philosophical contribution of Christianity. We lament our mistakes and bad choices know we have to look outside ourselves for the fix. The answer here is of course Christ. Beveridge explores how the will is gradually shaped by Christ as we look to every morsel of bread as a gift of grace.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, we pray for those who have minds troubled by their own sinfulness or bad choices, or just the predicaments they find themselves in. Bring us the realization that this is how it is for everyone, and that we are not alone. Help us to give cheer or counsel, and wisdom to direct those with serious problems to appropriate professionals. We also ask that you would shape our wills and let us grow in your grace. AMEN.