Upon the Rudder of a Ship
Among other similitudes which St. James uses to show that great matters are effected by small means, this of the rudder of a ship is one [James 3:4-5], and he ushers it in with a single word, which the Scripture often prefixes to weighty sayings to render them more remarkable, Behold, also the ships, which though they be so great, are driven by fierce winds, yet are turned about with a very small helm whithersoever the governor listeth.
The right guidance of this single part is of such consequence to the safety of the whole as that every irregular motion may either hazard [here hazard is a verb] the vessel or greatly hinder its progress, when it answers not the just point of the compass. How continually are these words of direction, starboard, starboard, port, port, spoken by him that eyes the compass, repeated by him that hold the helm: to prevent all danger that may arise from mistakes. Or else how suddenly would rocks, waves, or sands make a prey of them?
Well then might Aristotle in his mechanical questions propose it as a problem worthy of a resolution why a little helm hanging upon the outmost part of the ship should have such a great power as to move a vast bulk and weight with much facility amidst storms and gusts of wind? And may we not answer that the wisdom of these arts is God’s though the industry in the use of them is man’s.
But the more power it has the more apt emblem it is of that faculty of the will which in all moral actions is the spiritual rudder of the soul, to turn the whole man this way or that way as it pleases.
The position of the Schools [the Medieval theological universities] is a truth, Inclinatio voluntatis est inclinatio totius compositi, the inclination of the will is the inclination of the whole person: and accord to the rectitude or pravity of its motion, both the man and his actions are denoted good or evil. And hence it is that Austin [St. Augustine] does often define sin by a mala voluntas [evil will/desire] and good by a bona voluntas [good will/desire] because of the dominion which the will has in the whole man.
Of how absolute concernment is it then that this great engine which commands all the inferior powers of the soul, be not disordered.
If there be a dyspepsia in the stomach, in inflammation in the liver, or a taint in some other vital [organ] what can the less noble parts of the body contribute onto the health? If the foundation be out of course, how can the building stand? If the spring be polluted, who can expect the streams should be crystalline? If the will be vitiated, how can it be the fear, hatred, love, joy, desire, which in the sensitive part are passions but in the soul are immaterial affections, or rather, operations of the will and are found in angels themselves, should be pure and free from corruption of their principle?
It is therefore necessary that this spiritual rudder have also a spiritual compass by which it may steer that so it motion stay not be destructive or at the least vain. And what this compass be but the Word and Will of God? Conformity and obedience unto which is the only happiness as well as the whole duty of man. It is man’s duty to will what God wills, because as he was made like unto God in his image, so he was made for God in his end. And it is the happiness of man to will and nill as God does, because he thereby only comes to obtain a true and perfect rest: Whether he have or want what he desires, he is still miserable: like Noah’s dove, restless and fluttering till it can find out an object where it may acquiescence; like the grave and the horse leech, always craving and never satisfied.
See the O Christian from whence it is that this world, which is a tempestuous sea unto all, proves so fatal to many in the sad shipwreck of their eternal happiness. Is it not from the lawless motions of the will? Which when not governed by the will of God, as its perfect rule, is Cupiditas non voluntas, an impetuous and raging lust rather than a will.
What was it that ruined our first parents, and in them all their posterity, but the inordinacy of their will; by which they lost both their happiness and holiness at once? And what is it under the Gospel into which Christ resolves the damnation of those that perish? Is it not that they will not come unto him that they might have life? All obedience or disobedience is properly, or at lest primary in no part but in the will, so that though other faculties of the soul in regeneration are sanctified and thereby made conformable to the will of god, yet obedience and disobedience are formally acts of the will and according to its qualifications is a man said to be obedient unto to God or disobedient.
O that I could therefore awaken both myself and others to a due consideration of what importance it is like a wise and industrious pilot to guide this rudder of the soul, the will of man, by the unerring compass of the will of God.
Heaven is a port for which we all profess ourselves bound, and can it ever be obtained by naked and inefficacious velleities, by a few faint wishing and wouldings? What blind Balaam would then miss of it? What slothful man, that hides his hand in his bosom and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again [Prov. 19:24]might not then possess it, as well as any Caleb or Joshua, that wholly followed the Lord; or as dcivd who fulfilled all his wills [all that God desired]?
Methink that saying of our Savior should be as goad in the side of every sluggard, Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my father which is in heaven. [Matt. 7:21]
O holy God
Let it quicken me to all diligence
In an entire conformity of my will to thy will
That so I may readily do what thou commands
And let me esteem it the best part of heaven’s happiness
That I shall one day do it perfectly
As the angels which behold thy face.