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An essay by Arthur C. Benson

The Eternal Will

Title:     The Eternal Will
Author: Arthur C. Benson [More Titles by Benson]

I have spoken above, I know well, of things in which I have no skill to speak; I know no philosophy or metaphysics; to look into a philosophical book is to me like looking into a room piled up with bricks, the pure materials of thought; they have no meaning for me, until the beautiful mind of some literary architect has built them into a house of life; but just as a shallow pool can reflect the dark and infinite spaces of night, pierced with stars, so in my own shallow mind these perennial difficulties, which lie behind all that we do and say, can be for a moment mirrored.

The only value that such thoughts can have in life is that they should teach us to live in a frank and sincere mood, waiting patiently for the Lord, as the old Psalmist said. My own philosophy is a very simple one, and, if I could only be truer to it, it would bring me the strength which I lack. It is this; that being what we are, such frail, mysterious, inexplicable beings, we should wait humbly and hopefully upon God, not attempting, nor even wishing, to make up our minds upon these deep secrets, only determined that we will be true to the inner light, and that we will not accept any solution which depends for its success upon neglecting or overlooking any of the phenomena with which we are confronted. We find ourselves placed in the world, in definite relations with certain people, endowed with certain qualities, with faults and fears, with hopes and joys, with likes and dislikes. Evil haunts us like a shadow, and though it menaces our happiness, we fall again and again under its dominion; in the depths of our spirit a voice speaks, which assures us again and again that truth and purity and love are the best and dearest things that we can desire; and that voice, however imperfectly, I try to obey, because it seems the strongest and clearest of all the voices that call to me. I try to regard all experience, whether sweet or bitter, fair or foul, as sent me by the great and awful power that put me where I am. The strongest and best things in the world seem to me to be peace and tranquillity, and the same hidden power seems to be leading me thither; and to lead me all the faster whenever I try not to fret, not to grieve, not to despair. "_Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you,_" says the Divine Word; and the more that I follow intuition rather than reason, the nearer I seem to come to the truth. I have lately wasted much fruitless thought over an anxious decision, weighing motives, forecasting possibilities. I knew at the time how useless it all was, and that my course would be made clear at the right moment; and I will tell the story of how it was made clear, as testimony to the perfect guidance of the divine hand. I was taking a journey, and the weary process was going on in my mind; every possible argument for and against the step was being reviewed and tested; I could not read, I could not even look abroad upon the world. The train drew up at a dull suburban station, where our tickets were collected. The signal was given, and we started. It was at this moment that the conviction came, and I saw how I must act, with a certainty which I could not gainsay or resist. My reason had anticipated the opposite decision, but I had no longer any doubt or hesitation. The only question was how and when to announce the result; but when I returned home the same evening there was the letter waiting for me which gave the very opportunity I desired; and I have since learnt without surprise that the letter was being penned at the very moment when the conviction came to me.

I have told this experience in detail, because it seems to me to be a very perfect example of the suddenness with which conviction comes. But neither do I grudge the anxious reveries which for many days had preceded that conviction, because through them I learnt something of the inner weakness of my nature. But the true secret of it all is that we ought to live as far as we can in the day, the hour, the minute; to waste no time in anxious forecasting and miserable regrets, but just do what lies before us as faithfully as possible. Gradually, too, one learns that the restricting of what is called religion to certain times of prayer and definite solemnities is the most pitiful of all mistakes; life lived with the intuition that I have indicated is all religion. The most trivial incident has to be interpreted; every word and deed and thought becomes full of a deep significance. One has no longer any anxious sense of duty; one desires no longer either to impress or influence; one aims only at guarding the quality of all one does or says--or rather the very word "aims" is a wrong one; there is no longer any aim or effort, except the effort to feel which way the gentle guiding hand would have us to go; the only sorrow that is possible is when we rather perversely follow our own will and pleasure.

The reason why I desire this book to say its few words to my brothers and sisters of this life, without any intrusion of personality, is that I am so sure of the truth of what I say, that I would not have any one distracted from the principles I have tried to put into words, by being able to compare it with my own weak practice. I am so far from having attained; I have, I know, so many weary leagues to traverse yet, that I would not have my faithless and perverse wanderings known. But the secret waits for all who can throw aside convention and insincerity, who can make the sacrifice with a humble heart, and throw themselves utterly and fearlessly into the hands of God. Societies, organisations, ceremonies, forms, authority, dogma--they are all outside; silently and secretly, in the solitude of one's heart, must the lonely path be found; but the slender track once beneath our feet, all the complicated relations of the world become clear and simple. We have no need to change our path in life, to seek for any human guide, to desire new conditions, because we have the one Guide close to us, closer than friend or brother or lover, and we know that we are set where he would have us to be. Such a belief destroys in a flash all our embarrassment in dealing with others, all our anxieties in dealing with ourselves. In dealing with ourselves we shall only desire to be faithful, fearless and sincere; in dealing with others we shall try to be patient, tender, appreciative, and hopeful. If we have to blame, we shall blame without bitterness, without the outraged sense of personal vanity that brings anger with it. If we can praise, we shall praise with generous prodigality; we shall not think of ourselves as a centre of influence, as radiating example and precept; but we shall know our own failures and difficulties, and shall realise as strongly that others are led likewise, and that each is the Father's peculiar care, as we realise it about ourselves. There will be no thrusting of ourselves to the front, nor an uneasy lingering upon the outskirts of the crowd, because we shall know that our place and our course are defined. We may crave for happiness, but we shall not resent sorrow. The dreariest and saddest day becomes the inevitable, the true setting for our soul; we must drink the draught, and not fear to taste its bitterest savour; it is the Father's cup. That a Christian, in such a mood, can concern himself with what is called the historical basis of the Gospels, is a thought which can only be met by a smile; for there stands the record of perhaps the only life ever lived upon earth that conformed itself, at every moment, in the darkest experiences that life could bring, entirely and utterly to the Divine Will. One who walks in the light that I have spoken of is as inevitably a Christian as he is a human being, and is as true to the spirit of Christ as he is indifferent to the human accretions that have gathered round the august message.

The possession of such a secret involves no retirement from the world, no breaking of ties, no ecclesiastical exercises, no endeavour to penetrate obscure ideas. It is as simple as the sunlight and the air. It involves no protest, no phrase, no renunciation. Its protest will be an unconcerned example, its phrase will be a perfect sincerity of speech, its renunciation will be what it does, not what it abstains from doing. It will go or stay as the inner voice bids it. It will not attempt the impossible nor the novel. Very clearly, from hour to hour, the path will be made plain, the weakness fortified, the sin purged away. It will judge no other life, it will seek no goal; it will sometimes strive and cry, it will sometimes rest; it will move as gently and simply in unison with the one supreme will, as the tide moves beneath the moon, piled in the central deep with all its noises, flooding the mud-stained waterway, where the ships ride together, or creeping softly upon the pale sands of some sequestered bay.

[The end]
Arthur C. Benson's essay: Eternal Will