I The Discipline of the WillASH WEDNESDAY
Isaiah lviii. 6
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen?"
Discipline is the central idea of the observance of Lent. An opportunity, rich in its splendid possibilities, comes before us this year. Much of the discipline of this Lent is settled for us by those tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves placed.
God seems to be saying to us, in no uncertain tones, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen?"
Our amusements are already to a large extent curtailed, maybe by our own individual sorrows or anxieties; maybe by the feeling of the incongruity of enjoying ourselves while anguish and hardship reign supreme around us.
Our self-denials are already in operation, under the stress of straitened means, or the vital necessity of helping others less favoured than ourselves.
Our devotions have already been increased in frequency and in earnestness, for the call upon our prayers has come with an insistence and an imperiousness that brook no denial.
To this extent, and further in many directions, our Lent has been taken out of our own hands; ordered and pre-arranged by that inscrutable, yet loving, Providence which has permitted the War to come about.
Thus, at the very outset, we are brought into harmony with the central idea of discipline—not my will, but God's will.
Broadly, discipline is defined as "Mental and moral training, under one's own guidance or under that of another": the two necessarily overlap, and therefore we shall speak of God's discipline, acting upon us from outside, and of our own co-operation with divine purposes, which is our discipline of self from within.
In the forefront of the subject, and including every aspect of it upon which we shall touch, stands that tremendous word—will.
Have you ever attempted to gauge the mystery, to sound the depth of meaning implied in the simple sentence "I will"?
First of all what is the significance of "I"? You are the only one who can say it of yourself. Any other must speak of you as "he" or "she"; but "I" is your own inalienable possession.
This is the mystery of personality. That accumulation of experience, that consciousness of identity which you possess as absolutely, uniquely your own; which none other can share with you in the remotest degree. "A thing we consider to be unconscious, an animal to be conscious, a person to be self-conscious."
This leads on to a further mystery, alike concerned with so apparently simple a matter that its real complexity escapes us.
"I will": I, the self-conscious person, have made up my mind what I am going to do, and, physical obstacles excepted, I will do it.
The freedom of man's will has been the subject of endless dispute from every point of view, theistic, atheistic, Christian and non-Christian.
Merely as a philosophic controversy it has but little bearing upon daily life. The staunchest necessitarian, who argues theoretically that even when he says "I will" he is under the compulsion of external force, yet acts practically in exactly the same fashion as the rest of mankind....