The Soul, like the Mind and Heart, has its chronic disabilities, its deep-seated diseases. With an overpowering need of God, a great capacity to receive Him, common to all men, very few attain anything like a constant "fruition of Thy glorious Godhead." Many of us have fitful glimpses; and many, perhaps most of us, are 'unaware.' The causes of our deadness to things divine may be roughly classed under the three heads of inertia, preoccupation, and aversion.
Inertia.––We have seen how a certain lethargy of Mind withholds us from entering on the vast inheritance open to our intelligence. In like manner, the Soul is dead, and unaware of that hunger and thirst which God alone can satisfy. Conscience may be awake, may demand of us public worship, private prayers, the reading of good books; or, Conscience may be dulled, and we forgo these things; but, in either case, it is possible to have little or no apprehension of God––no wish, indeed, for such apprehension, for the lethargic Soul shrinks from that which must needs give it a great shaking out of its habits of ease. Such a Soul covets from others the praise that 'there is no harm in him'; from himself the praise that 'l do my duty' in all manner of proper observances.
The inner Soul is not dead; it could awake, if the Will of the man would respond to the approaches of the divine tenderness; but it is torpid––the cry, 'Awake! Awake!' does not penetrate the heavy ear.
The lethargic Soul is one with the wicked in this, that "God is not in all his thoughts." He is capable of living from hour to hour, nay, from day to day and from year to year, without that turning of the face of his soul towards God (as a flower to the sun) which is the sure indication of a living Soul. It is not that he never thinks upon God; perhaps there is not a man who never says in his need, 'God help me!' and perhaps not many who do not sometimes say, 'Thank God!' But this occasional and rare crying upon God is a widely different thing from having God in all his thoughts.
The hope for the inert Soul, whether he be a regular churchgoer or one of the 'careless ones,' is that some living idea of God may arrest his Mind and stir up his Will to desire, intend, resolve. This is what is called conversion, and is among the everyday dealings of the Almighty Father with His dull and callous children. We have all undergone such conversions, in a less degree, many times in our lives. And sometimes, to the generous heart or to the hardened sinner, a great conversion comes, which changes, from the moment, all the intents of his heart and the ways of his life.
Preoccupation.––As fatal as the lethargy of Soul which will not awake to the presence of God, is such preoccupation of Mind or Heart as leaves no room for the dominating and engrossing thought of God. "My duty towards God is to love Him with all my heart and all my mind," as well as "with all my soul and with all my strength." No power of Mansoul works alone in a compartment by itself, and Mind and Heart must unite in the worship of the Soul.
It is possible, and, alas! common enough, to be so preoccupied with one idea or with many that we are unaware of any need of God, practically unaware that He is. The preoccupation may be lawful enough in itself––praiseworthy ambition, family affection, or the passionate pursuit of knowledge; these are things for which we rightly give praise and honour; but any one of them may so absorb a man that he does not want God, that there is no room for God in all his thoughts, that the mere thought of God comes to be to him an encroachment upon thoughts he chooses to bestow elsewhere. He is not wicked, as men count wickedness, but he is living without God in the world. Though he does not know it, he is suffering a tremendous deprivation. He is crippled, mutilated in his best part, his highest function; and creeps through life like some poor wretch who spends his days and nights in a dark hole of a room, and never knows what it is to breathe in the open fields, under the broad sky. What joy for these, commonly generous, souls, to wake at last, here or hereafter, into the knowledge of God!
Involuntary Aversion.––But the Soul has another disability more puzzling and more astounding than either of those we have considered. There is in human nature an aversion to God. Whether it be, according to the Article, that "original sin which is the natural fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam," or whether it is that jerk of the shoulder from the hand of authority which belongs to freewill, we need not stop to inquire. Anyway, there is in human nature, as well as a deep-seated craving for God, a natural and obstinate aversion to Him.
The baby does not want to say his prayers, and the ripe saint is aware of unwillingness, a turning away of his thoughts and affections; and this, though all his joy is in his God. This involuntary turning from God is the cross and discipline of the Godward Soul. But, from whatever cause it springs, it would seem to be allowed in the nature of things; for, if our hearts flew to God as inevitably as raindrops to the earth where would our election, our willing choice of God before all things, come in? Where would be the sense of victory in our allegiance?
Voluntary Aversion.––But there is a difference between this natural, involuntary aversion, for which we take shame; and the voluntary aversion, animosity, malignity, towards God, set up by the rebellious and sinful Soul; the Soul who, out of pride or open wickedness, cannot endure the thought of God, travesties His Word, defies His Laws, abjures His Will, and blasphemes His Name. When all this is done with violence, we are shocked; but, when it is done with an easy superiority and good-nature, and with power of intellect, we are all, alas, too apt to swerve from our allegiance, if it be only for an instant, and to believe that the scoffer has more knowledge than we. This is because there are in our own hearts the germs of that aversion which he has nourished into a seedbearing plant.
"Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall." Let us hold fast our loyalty, knowing that this, of making with our Will deliberate choice of God, is the only offering we can make Him; knowing, too, for our comfort, that involuntary aversion is not sin, and only gives us occasion for choice; but, when we choose to turn away, our sin does not put us without the limits of mercy, but it is immeasurably great.