Why Do Christians Fail?

by | Sep 29, 2010 | Spirit-Led Living

As Christians, we may wonder why the lives of even the better sort of
people are strangely contrary to the principles of Christianity. But
before I give a direct answer to this, I want to pose the question: Why
is it that swearing is so common a vice among Christians? It is not so
common among women as it is among men. But among men this sin is so
common that more than two in three are guilty of it through the whole
course of their lives—some constantly, others only now and then.

Why is it that two in three of the men are guilty of so
gross and profane a sin as this? There is neither ignorance nor human
infirmity to plead for it; it is against any express commandment and the
most plain doctrines of our blessed Savior.

If we find the reason the generality of men live in this notorious vice,
then we will have found the reason the generality of even the better
sort of people live so contrary to Christianity.

The reason for common swearing is this: It is because men
do not have the intention to please God in all their actions. For if a
man has enough piety that he intends to please God in all the actions of
his life as the happiest and best thing in the world, then he will
never swear. It will be as impossible for him to swear while he feels
this intention within himself as it is impossible for a man who intends
to please his employer to go up and abuse him to his face.

It seems a small and necessary part of piety to have as
sincere an intention as this; in fact, it seems he has no reason to look
upon himself as a disciple of Christ who is not thus far advanced in
piety. And yet it is purely for want of this degree of piety that you
see such a mixture of sin and folly in the lives of even the better sort
of people.

It is for want of this intention that you see men who
profess religion, yet live in swearing and sensuality; that you see
clergymen given to pride and covetousness and worldly enjoyments. It is
for want of this intention that you see women who profess devotion, yet
live in all the folly and vanity of dress, wasting their time in
idleness and pleasures, and in all such instances of state and equipage
as their estates will reach.

For let a woman feel her heart full of this intention, and
she will find it as impossible to flaunt or boast as to curse or swear;
she will no more desire to shine at balls or assemblies or make a
figure among those who are most finely dressed, than she will desire to
dance upon a rope to please spectators: she will know that the one is as
far from the wisdom and excellency of the Christian spirit as the
other.

The Mark of a True Christian

It was this general intention that made the primitive
Christians such eminent instances of piety, and made the goodly
fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of martyrs and
confessors. And if you will here stop and ask yourselves why you are not
as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you
that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because
you never thoroughly intended it.

You observe the same Sunday worship that they did, and you
are strict in it, because it is your full intention to be so. And when
you as fully intend to be like them in their ordinary common life, when
you intend to please God in all your actions, you will find it as
possible as to be strictly exact in the service of the church.

And when you have this intention to please God in all your
actions as the happiest and best thing in the world, you will find in
you as great an aversion to everything that is vain and impertinent in
common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to
anything that is profane. You will be as fearful of living in any
foolish way, either of spending your time, or your fortune, as you are
now fearful of neglecting the public worship.

Who that lacks this general sincere intention can be
reckoned a Christian? And yet if it were among Christians, it would
change the whole face of the world! True piety and exemplary holiness
would be as common and visible as buying and selling, or any trade in
life.

Let a clergyman be thus pious, and he will converse as if
he had been brought up by an apostle; he will think and talk no more of
noble preferment than of noble eating or a glorious chariot. Let him
intend to please God in all his actions, and then he will know that
there is nothing noble in a clergyman but a burning zeal for the
salvation of souls.

Again, let a tradesman have this intention, and it will
make him a saint in his shop; his everyday business will be a course of
wise and reasonable actions, made holy to God, by being done in
obedience to His will and pleasure. He will buy and sell, and labor and
travel, because by so doing he can do some good to himself and others.

But then, as nothing can please God but what is wise and
reasonable and holy, so he will neither buy nor sell, nor labor in any
other manner, nor to any other end, but such as may be shown to be wise
and reasonable and holy. He will therefore consider, not what arts or
methods or application will soonest make him richer and greater than his
brethren; but he will consider what arts, what methods, what
application can make worldly business most acceptable to God and make a
life of trade a life of holiness, devotion and piety.

This will be the temper and spirit of every tradesman; he
cannot stop short of these degrees of piety whenever it is his intention
to please God in all his actions. And on the other hand, whoever is not
of this spirit and temper in his trade and profession clearly does not
have this intention; and yet without it, who can be shown to be a
follower of Jesus Christ?

We Have No Excuse

I have chosen to explain this matter by appealing to this
intention because it makes the case so plain and because everyone who
has a mind may see it in the clearest light and feel it in the strongest
manner only by looking into his own heart. For it is as easy for every
person to know whether he intends to please God in all his actions as
for any servant to know whether this is his intention toward his master.

You see two persons: One is regular in public and private
prayer, the other is not. Now the reason for this difference is not that
one has strength and power to observe prayer and the other has not; it
is that one intends to please God in the duties of devotion and the
other has no intention about it.

The case is the same in the right or wrong use of our time
and money. You see one person throwing away his time in sleep and
idleness, in visiting and diversions, and his money in the most vain and
unreasonable expenses. You see another careful of every day, dividing
his hours by rules of reason and religion, and spending all his money in
works of charity. The difference is not that one has strength and power
to do thus, and the other has not; it is that one intends to please God
in the right use of all his time and all his money, and the other has
no intention about it.

Here, therefore, let us judge ourselves sincerely; let us
not vainly content ourselves with the common disorders of our lives, the
vanity of our expenses, the folly of our diversions, the pride of our
habits, the idleness of our lives, and the wasting of our time, fancying
that we fall into such imperfections through the unavoidable weakness
and frailty of our natures; but let us be assured that these disorders
of our common life are owing to this, that we have not so much
Christianity as to intend to please God in all the actions of our lives.
We must not look upon ourselves in a state of pardonable imperfection
but in a state that lacks the first and most fundamental principle of
Christianity—an intention to please God in all our actions.

If anyone were to ask himself why there are any degrees of
sobriety he neglects, any practices of humility he lacks, any method of
charity he does not follow, any rules of redeeming time he does not
observe, his own heart will tell him that it is because he never
intended to be so exact in those duties. For whenever we fully intend
it, it is as possible to conform to all this regularity of life as it is
possible for a man to observe times of prayer.

It is not that we desire to be perfect
but simply fall short of it due to the weakness of our nature; it is
that we do not have enough piety to intend to be as good as we can or to
please God in all the actions of our lives. We see this plainly in the
case of him who spends his time in sports when he should be at church;
it is not his lack of power but his lack of intention or desire to be
there.

And the case is plainly the same in every other folly of
human life. She who spends her time and money in the unreasonable ways
and fashions of the world does not do so because she lacks power to be
wise and religious in the management of her time and money but because
she has no intention or desire of being so. When she feels this
intention, she will find it as possible to act up to it as to be
strictly sober and chaste, because it is her care and desire to be so.

This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of
divine grace or that it is in our own power to make ourselves perfect.
It only supposes that through the want of a sincere intention of
pleasing God in all our actions we fall into irregularities of life that
by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid. It
teaches us that the reason you see no real self-denial, no eminent
charity, no profound humility, no heavenly affection, no true contempt
of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no eminent piety
in the common lives of Christians is that they do not intend to be exact
and exemplary in these virtues.

William Law (1686-1761) was a scholar, theologian and
prolific writer whose works profoundly impacted numerous religious
leaders, including John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.

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