The will is capable of cultivation. By the exercise of your will you can refuse to do wrong things, and thus strengthen your will-power. Men have attained extraordinary heights of morality by the exercise of the will in right-doing and refusing to do wrong. This is noble and beautiful, but there is something more noble still and more beautiful. The moral man wills to do right because it is right, while the Christian wills to do right because it is the will of God and pleases him.
Although man can not by the exercise of his will-power in right-doing evolve into a Christian, the will plays an important part in the formation of Christian character. It is true, the will is most usually led by the affections of the heart; therefore the writer of Proverbs said, "Out of the heart are the issues of life." The heart must, however, get consent of the will before its desires are fulfilled. Here is a truth of vast importance to the Christian.
Many people's wills have become so in bondage to the impure affections and desires of their depraved hearts that they have no will to do right and shun the wrong. The desires of the heart sway their scepter of power over the will, and it acts to the granting the heart its wishes. This is a sad picture. A human being created to be free, but now a wretched slave. When he wills to do good evil is present with him; the good he would do, he does not do; and the evil he would not do, that is what he does. O miserable man! A person who has rejected the mercy of God and has yielded to the inclinations of an unholy heart until he has no power to accept the offers of mercy and shun the ways of sin, is an object of the greatest pity. To him there is no hope of escaping the damnation of hell.
There is a time in the life of every rational young man and woman when they can accept the blessed offers of salvation which God extends through his Son, if they will. God gives the Holy Spirit to operate upon the depraved heart, making it to feel something of the realities of a Savior's love and goodness, and something of the awfulness of sin. The Holy Spirit does not take hold upon the will and compel it to serve God, or force it into right action. He just takes hold upon the heart, suppressing its love for sin, and awakening desires for a better life, thus removing the unrighteous scepter the heart swayed over the will, giving the will freedom and power to accept or reject the mercies of God. While the impure affections and unholy desires of a depraved heart are being restrained by the power of the Holy Spirit, before the will is set the way of life and the way of death, each subject to choice. Now is the time for whosoever will to come and drink of the water of life freely, and whosoever will now call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Not only does the will act an important part in securing the salvation of the soul through the offered mercies of God, but it is the purpose of God that the will act an important part all along the Christian way. After the Christian enters through the "strait gate" and steps out upon the "narrow way" that leads to eternal golden glories, he is not carried forward in a "chariot of fire" through the journey of life and crowned at the end with eternal blessedness irrespective of his will. Often it is true that the soul is carried blessedly onward in the way of life on the wings of joy, without any apparent exercise of the will; but how often Good seems to have deserted or forsaken us, Joy has hid her smiling face, and Good Feelings have departed, and we are left to serve God and attend to our Christian duties from choice of will. God wants our life service to be a willing service. It is necessary, therefore, that he apparently forsake us and permit dark powers to engage us. It is that our wills may be exercised. The Psalmist says, "I will go the way of thy commandment; I will keep thy testimonies," and let us all say amen.
The blessings and joys the Lord bestows upon us are the rewards of willing service, for which things you should be very thankful; but never let them influence you in your conduct toward God. There have been those, who, in the hour of seeming desertion, refusing to use their will-power, have turned back to the world. This is faint-heartedness and cowardice, ignobleness and unmanliness.
Every faculty of the body or soul that is unused or unexercised will weaken and die. The muscles if unused will grow weak, the mind if unused will weaken, and the will if unexercised will lose its power. Should God always keep us soaring aloft on the wings of peace and joy and blessings, without the exercise of the will, this important faculty would degenerate into weakness and slavery. O may my young readers arise in the strength of their manhood and womanhood and use, in choosing and doing the right, the will God has given them. The tempter may come, yea, will come, and endeavor to get some of the affections of the heart set upon the world; but you must reject all such temptations, and by the force of your will set your affections on things above. God does never will for us, but he gives us power to will if we will but use the power he gives us.
You are exhorted by the Scriptures to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The "crown of life" lies at the end of the Christian race. When we step over the boundary between time and eternity our salvation is then eternally secured. Praises be to God! It is for this crown of amaranthine glory, or blessed eternal salvation, that we are to watch and labor with fear and trembling. O may you be very careful! Be watchful, lest something should hinder you in your Christian race, and you miss at last the blessedness of heaven. Guard the affections of your heart with the strictest vigilance.
I said above that God would always give us power to will, if we would but make use of that power. For proof of this I shall refer you to Phil.2:13, which in our common version is rendered thus: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The meaning of this text is not so readily comprehended by this version as it is by some others. By Conybeare and Howson it is translated in these words: "It is God who works in you both will and deed." Upon examination of the different translations we find the meaning of this text to be this: "It is God that gives us power to will and to do his good pleasure." In the verse preceding this one the apostle tells us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling," and then he adds for our encouragement, "God will work in you the power to will and to do that which will secure your eternal salvation." Never say, "I can't."
Here is something which will prove very valuable to you in your Christian life if you can only get to fully comprehend it: You can do nothing; your will is powerless without God and his grace, and God can do nothing in you without the consent of your will. God does everything, and we do everything: we are to purify our hearts, and yet it is God who purifies our hearts; we are to make us a new heart, and yet it is God who gives us a new heart; we are commanded to work out our salvation, and God gives us power to do it. God furnishes the power; we are to do. Do not think that God will act for you. He will give you power to act, but he will not do the act for you. Do not, therefore, say, "I can't." You can do "all things" through Christ, who strengthens you. You can serve God in a way acceptable to him; you can keep your mind stayed on him; you can pray; you can resist the devil and temptation and be an overcomer; you can endure unto the end -- you can do "all things" by the grace and power of God, and he will always give you power to do his pleasure. Do not serve and praise God only when he gives you blessings and joy, but serve him and praise him when the way is dark. Have a fixed decision of the will to serve God no matter what the feelings may be. Be thankful to God for the will-power he has given you, and use it manfully, nobly in his service. Do not cower and tremble before temptation. You are to "fear and tremble" before God, but never before trials, temptations, sin, nor the devil. God will cause you to triumph by giving you power to will. Be steadfast, be faithful, fix your will unswervingly to serve God, and in due season you shall reap if you faint not.