Tragedies and Triumphs of the Human Will – Louis Albert Banks (historic sermon 1855-1933)
“Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” —John 5:40
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” —John 7:17
We are face to face here with the direct teaching, in harmony with the spirit of the Bible everywhere, that the responsibility for the loss of a man’s soul and his failure to attain eternal life must always rest on his own will. The Bible makes this truth very clear, and puts great emphasis on the power of every individual to choose the right or the wrong. It is distinctly stated that it is the desire of our Heavenly Father that all should be saved, and that nothing can shut the door of heaven upon us except our own refusal. Isaiah saw this long ago and said, voicing God’s message of entreaty: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Peter so understood it, for he says: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness ; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Ezekiel was also chosen to bring us a message from God’s heart: “Say unto them. As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?”
The Savior, standing above doomed Jerusalem, voiced the same great truth of man’s power to choose his own destiny. With streaming eyes he exclaimed, looking down upon the city he had sought in vain to save, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not. ” And in that last book of the Bible, in the last chapter of it, in its most tender and loving invitation, the same great message speaks to us: “And the Spirit and the bride say. Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” And then we have the Scriptures which we are specially studying tonight, in which the Savior at first declares to those that have rejected him, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life;” and says to others with whom he is pleading, as it is brought out more clearly in the Revised Version, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know.”
These Scriptures surely make it very clear to us that our salvation hinges on our own will. There is no bar to our salvation in the universe, except what resides in our own hearts; and God has promised that if we will ask him, he will give us assistance and help, freely and willingly, to stimulate any good purpose. Thus it is that every man and every woman hold the lever in their own hands which controls their eternal destiny. You cannot say that you are in danger because of lack of love on the part of God, because ” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” You cannot say that there is any lack of willingness on the part of God to save you, for ” he is not willing that any should perish.” No, let us be honest with ourselves and with God to-night. If we are not Christians tonight, it is not because we cannot be, but simply and plainly because we will not.
The difference between the Christian and the unconverted here this evening is that the Christian, in response to the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ for love and obedience, says with gladness: “I will. I surrender my will to thee, O Lord. Gladly will I learn what is pleasing to thee, and loyally will I perform thy will. Not my will, but thy will be done.” The Savior stands with equal tenderness and love before every unconverted person here to-night, and asks of each of you the same loyalty, the same glad surrender of yourself in loving service and obedience to him. But however you may disguise it even to yourself, you are really saying to the loving, seeking Savior, who died to redeem you: “I will not. I will not yield myself to thee. I will not confess thee before men. I will not give thee my love and my service.”
I know that when we have asked you to be Christians you have said, “I cannot,” but that is not true. God has made no blunders; the truth is that you will not; it is the rebellion of your heart against God. A warden at Sing Sing Prison once said that it made him tremble to hear a boy say “won’t,” to his mother; for it seemed to him that that boy had already started on the road to the penitentiary. The spirit of rebellion against rightful government was coming to be master in the boy’s mind and heart. O my brother, my Sister, you ought to tremble to-night if you are saying “I won’t” to God. One may say that until the conscience loses its power to arouse the will to action.
Victor Hugo says, “A man may be a wreck as a ship. Conscience is an anchor; but it is as terrible as true that, like the anchor, conscience may be dragged.” Perhaps some of you are congratulating yourselves that you do not feel so full of anxiety and care about your religious condition as you have at other times. It is not a source of congratulation but rather one for terror and anxiety. Woe to the man who is at peace and at the same time a sinner against God. There is no real peace except in the consciousness of your salvation, and if you are a sinner against God and yet have no sense of regret or remorse or trouble about it, you may be sure that it means danger; that it is only the dangerous lethargy and stupor which precede death, or the stupidity of the drunkard who does not feel pain because his nerves are drugged into insensibility. It is a false peace which will end in bitter remorse, and in the aroused conscience will sting like an adder when it is too late for change.
Southey tells the story of some wreckers who cut down a bell that was suspended on a buoy over a dangerous reef, in order that the incoming ships, unwarned, in the darkness and storm, might come within the reach of their greedy and thieving hands. The wreckers themselves afterward were lost on that same reef from which they had removed the warning bell. So it is possible to stifle your conscience and drug your will. But it means destruction. For though you reject the Holy Spirit, and trample your conscience under foot, and lock your heart against the pleading knocking of the Son of God, and drown your restlessness of soul in the gaieties of the world, it does not change the fact that you are accountable to God for your action, that you owe him your service and your love, that the wages of sin is death, and that if ye will not come to Christ ye cannot have life.
Every little while we have some great illustration which shows us how true the Bible is to our human nature, and that a man cannot dally with his own conscience, or play with the divine right of choice, without paying the fearful penalty of disaster and ruin. Only a few years ago, Mr. Parnell was the astute and thoroughly trusted leader of the Irish cause in the English Parliament. He had an eloquence peculiar to himself, seemed to have an unlimited measure of common sense, and above all a masterful will, which made him a governor of others, because he first governed himself. Beginning alone, he fought his way step by step, until such men as Gladstone believed in him, and respected him, and victory seemed certain for him and for his cause. There was a time when almost any man with a clear eye for historic perspective would have said, ” Here is a man who will live in history as one of its great figures.” In 1882 he was great enough to offer of his own accord to Mr. Gladstone to retire from public life altogether, if in the great Englishman’s judgment such an act would be helpful to the Irish cause.
Then came his secret overthrow. The sin which destroyed Samson undermined him. It was long covered up and hidden; but like all sin, as it grew into mastery and control of the man’s nature, it became bold and defiant. In the autumn of 1890 his shame was uncovered before all the world. Then he was asked to retire ; he was shown his cause would certainly fail unless he relieved it of his burden. But his sin seemed to have changed his whole nature, and he no longer had the power to be self-denying, or to do great and generous deeds. Justin McCarthy, who had been his dearest friend, says: “He seems suddenly to have changed his whole nature and his very ways of speech. We knew him before as a man of superb self-restraint, cool, calculating, never carried from the moorings of his keen intellect by any waves of passion around him, a man with the eye and the foresight of a born commander-in-chief.” That was the man before he had sold himself to the devil, before secret sin had eaten out his manhood and drugged his conscience and palsied his will ; but what kind of a man was he afterward?
Hear McCarthy again: “We had now in our midst a man seemingly incapable of self-control; a man ready at any moment, and on the smallest provocation, to break into a very tempest and whirlwind of passion; a man of the most reckless and self-contradictory statement; a man who could descend to the most trivial and vulgar personalities, who could encourage and even indulge in the most ignoble and humiliating brawls.” You all know the result. As Lucifer fell like a star from heaven to the deepest hell, so he fell from leadership, from the respect of mankind, and died as Samson did, broken-hearted and in shame. O my brother, my sister, do not dally with sin, do not dally with your will which is strong enough jQi to accept the Lord Jesus Christ ! It is an awful thing for Christ to have to say about you in heaven to-night, where he is at the right hand of God, making intercession for you, “He will not,” or “She will not,” come unto me that they might have life.
But, thank God, if you will you may. What a blessed Scripture this second one is, ” If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know.” Notice the order : first, it is to will. You must make up your mind. You must formulate the purpose in your heart. It must be a decision, absolute. That is the first step. The next is doing. ” He that willeth to do his will”â€” there must be action. That brings knowledge. That brings light and experience. It is as if a man had a check book in his hands, and knew there was an abundance in the bank to supply all his needs, and yet he is starving in poverty. He must first will that he will draw on that bank, then he must write his check and present it, and then he shall have coin in his hands and have food in his house.
Mark Guy Pearse tells an interesting story of a poor old woman in Scotland, whose son had come over here to America and was doing well. He wrote home to the widowed mother to tell her that now she need not trouble any more; that as long as she lived, he would send her money for her rent. She was overjoyed, and carefully put his letters in an old broken teapot on the dresser; and almost every night she took them out and read them with eyes filled with tears of joy. But day after day the time drew nearer for the payment of the rent, and sweet as the words of her son were, still it took more than pleasant words to satisfy the landlord. At first she was angry with herself for the fears that whispered within her. Her son had promised and promised again in every letter he wrote. But what of the promises if the money did not come? At last the rent day came. Surely the postman to-day would bring the money. It was just like her son to calculate so exactly, and to send it just when it was due. No! the postman went his way, and there was nothing for her. The dear old soul tried to keep up; there was some delay somewhere, but it was all right, to-morrow would explain it all, and the landlord could wait till tomorrow. But alas! many to-morrows went by. And at last the landlord could wait no longer. The money must be paid, or she must go.
Once more she put on her spectacles and went through the letters. There it was as plain as plain could be. What could it mean? Oh, if he only knew that to-morrow her little all would be sold for rent!
Now it chanced that a friend, hearing of her trouble, came in to see her.
“I thought your son promised to pay the rent?” said the friend.
“He did!” said the old lady, shaking her head very mournfully, “he did; and I can’t think why he isn’t as good as his word.”
“Will you let me see the letters?” said the friend.
“Yes,” said the old woman, and she took down the broken teapot from the dresser and fetched them out.
The friend read them through. “Was there nothing in this letter?”
“Yes,” said the old woman, “there was a strip of paper; some advertisement or something, but no money.”
“Where is it?” urged the friend. There it was in the depths of the teapot. “Why, it is a post-office order!” said the friend; “more than enough to pay the rent.”
Away they went to the post-office. There was some difficulty at first. The time had passed, but after a while the matter was explained. The order was cashed; and the poor old soul’s troubles were at an end.
So, my dear friends, all these precious promises in God’s Word are useless to you unless you use them as checks on a bank, or as the post-office order on the treasury. Take that blessed promise, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” great enough and splendid enough to save every poor sinner in the world, but yet it will never save you unless you come to the Lord Jesus Christ. God help you to come to-night!