Chapter XI Freewill

Summary of Points considered so far.––We have seen that the ordering of Mansoul, the due coordination of all its powers, belongs to Will; that the Will is neither moral nor immoral; that the function of the Will is to choose; that the choice lies, not between things, circumstances, or persons, but between ideas; that an act of the Will evolves from long preparation, under the guidance of the Intelligence, the Affections, and the Conscience; that the operations of the Will are also of slow evolution, going through, at least, the stages of intention, purpose, resolution; that immediate acts of Will, which do not seem to go through any process of evolution, either in preparation or operation, are really only the application of principles and opinions that have passed through their due stages and issue in acts of judgment: it is these, and not the immediate decision, which are acts of Will.

We have seen, too, that many persons shirk the exercise of Will, the proper work of a man, and drift into allowance instead of choice, or into the wayward impulses proper to their nature. Intellectual opinions, as well as moral principles, belong, it appears, to the sphere of the Will. We perceive that the good Will, which humbly undertakes its functions in Mansoul, finds itself continually beset with hazards, impulses here, suggestions there; but that the field of action for the Will is narrower than it seems: Will must watch at the postern where ideas enter. This is the more necessary because Reason, a dependable guide as to ideas which the Will has not admitted, becomes a special pleader for an idea that has once crossed the rubicon––so much so, that there is no conceivable act of crime or folly that the reason of men has not justified to themselves by logical arguments, not to be refuted. Conscience, too, that other judge of our actions, is able to be convinced by Reason. Therefore, if Mansoul is to be saved from anarchy, the Will must keep incessant watch at the door of ideas. We have seen, too, that the obstructions to the rule of Will, arising from strong impulses and powerful suggestions, may be met in a simple way. The Will asserts itself, not by struggle and insistence, but by a diversion of thought, to be repeated as often as the impulse or suggestion recurs; and each recurrence is fainter than the last: whilst the Will employs the pause secured by such diversion to gather force.

So much we have been able to gather, more or less vaguely, about the functions and behaviour of the Will; and it behoves us to know all we can about this one practical faculty of man, because the task set to us is to work out our own salvation from base habits of body, loose habits of mind, inordinate affections, from debased and conventional moral judgments; and the Will is the single instrument by which we are able to work.

Will and Conventionality.––Our Will must deliver us from the intellectual and moral fallacies of which the air is full. It is by our Will that we shall be saved from that commonplace respectability which never errs, because every act conforms to the standard of general custom; not by choice of will, but in lazy imitation. This habit of life, though it look like that of the man of good-will, is the despair of all who care profoundly for their kind; because the end of life––nay, life itself––is missed by all those excellent citizens who live to save their lives; to do well by themselves; to get on and prosper, that they may have the more, whether of luxury, culture, or pleasure. Life, circumscribed by self, its interests and advantages, falls under the condemnation,––"He that saveth his life shall lose it."

Therefore, Christ ate with publicans and sinners, and pronounced woes against the respectable classes because the sinners might still have a Will which might rise, however weakly, at the impact of a great thought, at the call to a life outside of themselves. The men at whom no one could point a finger were tied and bound in self, and were incapable of the great act of will implied in, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve."

There are but two services open to men––that which has self as the end and centre, and that which has God (and, by consequence, man) for its object.

It is possible, indeed, to choose the service of God unconsciously, believing that we have only a passionate desire to help men; but it is not any way possible to drift into the service of God when our object is to do well by ourselves: no, not even if that doing well by ourselves reaches its ultimate aim––that of saving our own souls. It has been well said that selfishness is none the better for being eternal selfishness.

If Christ were to walk amongst us to-day, perhaps He would cry in our streets, 'Woe to the land which upholds the standard of his own well-being as the aim of every man!' We cannot live higher than our aims. Will must have an object outside of itself, whether for good or ill; and, therefore, perhaps there is more hope for some sinners than for certain respectable persons.

We seem able to discern something of the function of the Will and something of its behaviour. If we would look closer and know what the Will is, if we would enclose it in a definition, it eludes us, as do all the great mysteries of life, death, and personality. This much we discern––that, in the man of good-will, the Will is absolutely free; that, in fact, there can be no will but a free will. Wherefore, the conventional person who makes no choice is without freewill, because he is without will. Will, freewill, must have an object outside of self; and the poet has said the last word, so far as we yet know:

     "Our wills are ours, we know not how;
     Our wills are ours to make them Thine.'
               TENNYSON.