Disorders of the Heart
Some people who are truly inclined to Christianity and receive instructions in piety with pleasure often wonder why they do not make greater progress in that religion which they so much admire. Now the reason for this is because the Christian faith only lives in their head, but something else has possession of their hearts.
Therefore they continue from year-to-year merely as admirers and praisers of piety without ever coming up to the reality and development of what it really teaches.
If it is asked why religion does not get possession of their hearts, the reason is not because they live in gross sins or debaucheries, for their respect for religion preserves them from such disorders. But it is because their hearts are constantly employed and kept in a wrong state by the mistaken use of things that in themselves are lawful and right to be used.
For example, the use and enjoyment of their money is right and legitimate, and so it never comes into their heads to imagine that there are any great dangers in how they spend their money. They never reflect that there is a vain and unwise use of material things which does not destroy the soul like gross sins but which still disorders the heart and supports it in sensuality and dullness.
This strengthens pride and vanity, making them incapable of receiving the life and spirit of true Christian piety. For our souls may receive an infinite hurt and be rendered incapable of true spiritual virtue merely by our misuse of innocent and lawful things.
- What, moreover, is more innocent than rest and relaxation? And yet what is more dangerous to the soul than sloth and idleness?
- Or what is more lawful than eating and drinking? And yet what is more destructive to what is right and more fruitful of what is wrong than sensuality and self-indulgence?
- How lawful and even praiseworthy is the care of a family? And yet how certainly are many people left incapable of all virtue by a worldly and over-anxious state of mind in doing this.
Gross sins are plainly seen and easily avoided by persons who profess to be Christians. But since it does not shock and offend our consciences, the unwise and dangerous use of innocent and lawful things can easily lead to their misuse. A man who expends all his money in sports, for instance, and a woman who lays out all she has upon herself can hardly be persuaded that the spirit of true Christianity cannot exist in such a frivolous way of life.
These persons, as we have already noted, may live free from scandalous sins, they may be friends of religion, admire it, and even praise and speak well of it. But it will never govern their hearts and be the spirit prompting their actions until they change their way of life and let Christian principles control the use and spending of their money.
Let me add that more people are kept from a true sense and taste of spiritual life by this kind of sensuality and indulgence than by gross drunkenness. More neglect the great duties of Christian piety because they are so greatly absorbed in worldly affairs than through deliberate wickedness.
This man would perhaps be devout if he were not so fine a musician. Another is deaf to all the motives of piety because he indulges in an idle, lazy spirit. If a woman would make fewer visits or not be always talking she would not be so indifferent to the claims of true Christianity.
Granted, all these things seem small and unimportant when they are compared to the great sins. Yet they are really very destructive because they are hindrances to true spiritual life. So if we would make real progress in religion, we must not only abhor gross and notorious sins, but we also must discipline the innocent and lawful parts of our lives and put all of them under the rules of holy wisdom and true piety.
William Law (1688–1761) was an English churchman, theologian, and author. This selection, condensed and updated by Larry D. Smith, is from his famous book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.
William Law (1688–1761) was an English churchman, theologian, and author.