Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing by Sören Kierkegaard
Sören Kierkegaard is one of the towering Christian existential thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century. While his literary style was experimental, his writings call for Christian morality; a defense of faith and religion. Among his many books are Training in Christianity, Sickness Unto Death, and Fear and Trembling. This book was first published by Harper in 1938. It was translated from the Danish and contains an introductory essay by Douglas V. Steere. Prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Willie Brock.
Chapter 5: Barriers to willing One Thing: Willing Out of Fear of Punishment
2. Next, it must be said that the man who only wills the Good out of fear of punishment does not will one thing. He is double-minded.
The other aspect of the reward-centered man is willing the good only out of fear of punishment. For in essence, this is the same as to will the Good for the sake of the reward, to the extent that avoiding an evil is an advantage of the same sort as that of attaining a benefit. The Good is one thing. Punishment is something else. Therefore the double-minded person does not desire one thing when he desires the Good under the condition that he shall avoid punishment. The condition lays its finger upon just the double-mindedness. If that condition were not there, he would not fear the punishment, for punishment is indeed not what a man should fear. He should fear to do wrong. But if he has done wrong, then he must, if he really wills one thing and sincerely wills the Good, desire to be punished, that the punishment may heal him just as medicine heals the sick. If one who is sick fears the bitterness of the medicine, or fears "to let himself be cut and cauterized by the physician," then what he really fears is -- to get well, even though in delirium he swears most positively that this is not the case, and that, on the contrary, he all too eagerly longs for his health. As for this assurance, the more zealously it is made, the more clearly is its double-mindedness revealed: that he desires his health and yet does not will it, although he has it in his power. To desire what one cannot carry out is not such double-mindedness because the hindrance is not within the control of the one who desires it. Hut when the person who desires is himself the obstacle that keeps himself from getting his desire fulfilled, not by giving it up, for then he would be at one with himself, but both by not willing and yet by willing to continue to desire: then the double-mindedness is clear -- if it can be made clear -- or at least the fact is clear that it is double-mindedness. If what a man fears is not the mistake itself, but the reproach at being caught in the mistake, then that fear so far from helping him out of the error may even lead him into that which is still more ruinous, even if apart from this he had made no mistake.
So, too, with one who wishes to do good out of fear of punishment, if indeed it can be done in that fashion, if it is not as when the fear-ridden person turns his whole life into nothing but illness, out of fear of becoming ill. Fear of the punishment is so far from helping him to do the Good in truth, that it ruins him, just because punishment is a medicine. But everyone, even a child knows that nothing is so dangerous as a medicine -- when it is used in the wrong way. Even if it does not end in death, it may bring on critical illness. And spiritually understood there is a ruinous illness, namely, not to fear what a man should fear: the sacredness of modesty, God in the heavens, the command of duty, the voice of conscience, the accountability to eternity. In order to be insured against or of being saved from this illness, it is profitable to a man that he should punish himself, "that he beat his breast and chastise his heart." It is still more fruitful that he be punished in order that the punishment may keep him awake and sober, for in whatever way this may be more precisely understood, it will be to his profit and his advantage; yes, truly to his advantage, if he voluntarily allows himself to be punished.
But then, in a spiritual sense, there is another illness, a still more destructive one: to fear what a man should not and ought not to fear. The first illness is defiance and obstinacy and willfulness. The second is cowardice and servility and hypocrisy. And this last is terrible just because it is an illness where the physician sees to his horror that the sick person has used the medicine -- in the wrong way. It may indeed seem that the one that wills the Good out of fear of punishment may still not be called ill, for he really wills the Good. For surely punishment is not an illness? Yet he is none the less ill and his illness is just this: the confusing of the illness and the medicine. It might seem that the one who wills the Good out of fear of punishment cannot be said to have used the medicine, and therefore cannot be said to have used it wrongly. For he indeed wills the Good. He wishes to be healthy -- out of his fear of having to use the medicine. But spiritually understood, where illness is not in the material body as the fever is in the blood, and where medicine is not something external, like drops in a bottle, then fear means: to use and to have used, to have taken the medicine -- in the wrong way. This shows itself clearly in the terrible and fatal manifestations of that other illness.
It has been noted that fear of poverty suddenly makes the extravagant person miserly; but it is never observed that it makes him thrifty, and why not? Because the fear of the medicine lay in taking it in the wrong way. Indeed, fear of the body’s infirmities has taught the voluptuary to observe moderation in debauchery (for the fear was to take the medicine in the wrong way) but it has never made him chaste. It taught him, instead of forgetting God in the whirlpool of vice (sad distraction of mind!), daily to mock God by moderation -- in debauchery (abominable discretion!). And indeed, fear of punishment has made the sinner into a hypocrite, who in hypocrisy’s loathesome doubleness of mind pretended to love God (for the fear was to take the medicine in the wrong way), but it has never made him pure of heart. This is firmly established: that punishment is not illness, but medicine. Thus it may be a punishment for the frivolous person to be confined to a sick bed, but suppose in truth he understands it as punishment, then the illness, the fever or whatever other disorder it now may be, then it is a medicine. On the other hand, all double-mindedness that wills the Good only out of fear of punishment can always be known in the end, because it considers punishment as an illness. If double-mindedness, then, which one may inwardly pity, is an overtense anxiety, as when the horrified imagination of the sick person alters the effect of the medicine: then the mark is that punishment is confused with illness and one who suffers from it simply does not in truth desire to be released from the illness, but in falsity desires to be rid of the medicine.
Now which is the punishment that is to be feared; what, more precisely, is understood by it? When we reflect upon that, double-mindedness becomes more obvious. For one and the same illness may be regarded very differently and its danger varies according to the different wrong conceptions of punishment that are present. Someone may think that by punishment is meant what is now seldom mentioned -- the punishment of eternity. And it might seem that the person was not double-minded who wills the Good out of fear of that punishment, since he refers the punishment to eternity, therefore to the same place where the Good has its home. And yet, he does not will the Good, he wills it only out of fear of punishment. Therefore -- if there were no punishment! In that "if" lurks double-mindedness. If there were no punishment!! In that "if" hisses double-mindedness. If there were no punishment, or if indeed there was a man who could convince him that eternity’s punishment was a fantasy; or if it became common practice to think in this fashion; or if he could travel to a foreign country where it was common practice; or if cowardly and hypocritical superstition could discover a cheap means of propitiation!!! Look at the double-mindedness! Note that it can just as easily seek its consolation in unbelief as in superstition. And if double-mindedness does not seek them out, then it is they that try to capture double-mindedness until the matter becomes obvious. If one were briefly to characterize double. mindedness by a single appropriate expression, what would be more characteristic than that -- "if," "in case that"! For when the will in a man gets command so that he keeps on willing the Good and in truth willing only that one thing, then there is no "in case that." But double-mindedness brings itself to a stop continually by its "in case that." It does not contain the impetus of eternity and does not have the infinite’s open road before it. It passes itself and meets itself as it is coming to a stop. It is said that by the holy sign of the cross one can halt the evil Spirit, so that it cannot go on. In this fashion, double-mindedness brings itself to a halt by its pitiful sign, by its "in case that." For a moment it may seem as if double-mindedness did not exist. Double-mindedness can perhaps speak in such a fashion that it deceives. But when a man begins to act and there is double-mindedness in him, then he is plunged immediately into this paralyzing "in case that." It is true that a man may fill up the temporal order with his talk, but eternity will reveal the nature of his deeds. Only for him who wills the Good in truth, only for him can what is taught about the punishments of eternity be eternally true. The one that merely fears the punishment, for him it cannot remain eternally true, for there is nothing eternal in him, since the Eternal can only be in him if he wills the Good in truth. There is only one proof that the Eternal exists: faith in it.
Fear is a tottering proof, that proves that the fearful one does not believe or does so as when the devil believes, but trembles because he does not believe. Only one thing can help a man to will the Good in truth: the Good itself. Fear is a deceitful aid. It can embitter one’s pleasure, make life laborious and miserable, make one old and decrepit; but it cannot help one to the Good since fear itself has a false conception of the Good -- and the Good does not allow itself to be deceived. Or does not this also belong to the true nature of the Good, this zeal for itself, that will not tolerate anyone else, any strange helper, any interference by some contentious one who might only create confusion. For, when the Good took up its place at the goal where the reward beckons or where the Good itself beckons to a man, the Good against its will would then be forced to see and to put up with the fact that there were two paths, and two men bent on them; the one be-cause he willed the Good in truth, and humbly but gladly followed its beckoning; the other because fear drove him thence. Spiritually understood, is it conceivable that two such different men could possibly be able to come to the same place! For in a spiritual sense, place is not something external, to which a slave might come against his will when the overseer uses his scourge. And the path is not something that does not matter whether one rides forwards or backwards. But the place and the path are within a man and just as the place is the blessed state of the striving soul, so the path is the striving soul’s continual transformation. Nay, as the Good is only one thing, so it wishes also to be the only thing that aids a man. The Good suckles and nurses the infant, rears and nourishes the youth, strengthens the adult, supports the aged. The Good teaches the striving one. It helps him. But only in the way that the loving mother teaches a child to walk alone. The mother is far enough away from the child so that she cannot actually support the child, but she holds out her arms. She imitates the child’s movements. If it totters she swiftly bends as if she would seize it -- so the child believes that it is not walking alone. The most loving mother can do no more, if it be truly intended that the child shall walk alone. And yet she does more; for her face, her face, yes, it is beckoning like the reward of the Good and like the encouragement of Eternal Blessedness. So the child walks alone, with eyes fixed upon the mother’s face, not on the difficulties of the way; supporting himself by the arms that do not hold on to him, striving after refuge in the mother’s embrace, hardly suspecting that in the same moment he is proving that he can do without her, for now the child is walking alone. Fear, on the other hand, is a dry nurse for the child: it has no milk; a bloodless corrector for the youth: it has no beckoning encouragement; a niggardly disease for the adult: it has no blessing; a horror for the aged: when fear has to admit that the long painful time of schooling did not bring Eternal Blessedness.
Fear also wishes to help a man. It desires to teach him to walk alone, but not as a loving mother does it. For it is fear itself that continually upsets the child. It desires to help him forward, but not as a loving mother’s beckoning. For it is fear itself that weighs him down so that he cannot move from the spot. It desires to lead him to the goal, and yet it is the fear itself that makes the goal terrifying. It desires to help him to the Good, and yet that kind of learner never wins the favor of the Good. Nor does he ever become God’s friend. For, as the Scriptures teach, not only thieves and robbers, but also the fearful may not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. The fearful one desires Heaven not for itself. He desires it only out of fear of punishment. Is not such a man double-minded even though he was not one of those who would appear wholly other than he was? Would not such a man be double-minded if you saw him in his dreams, when in sleep he has cast off the yoke of fear, when all is as he would really have it be, and he is as he really is, as he would be upon waking if fear did not exist? For it is said of old that one learns to know a man’s soul by his dreams.(Plato’s Republic IX. 572)
If by the word punishment, one thinks of eternity’s punishment, it gives a false impression, as if indeed it were not double-mindedness to will the Good only out of fear of punishment. But yet this is double-mindedness. Even if it happened to be a good man who in the agony of fear preserved a certain slavish blamelessness out of fear of punishment: still he is double-minded. He does continually what he really would rather not do, or at least what he has no pleasure in doing, for this pleasure is only a low sensual pleasure, in fact of all sensual pleasures it is the lowest. It is the one whose miserable glory consists solely in avoiding something, hence the pleasure is not a pleasure in itself, but only by contrast. Nor does he attribute the punishment to God and to the Good. On the contrary, as he pictures it, the Good is one thing, the punishment is an entirely different matter. But in that case the Good is not one thing. Thus by his double-mindedness he brings about a strained relation between the Good and the punishment. He wishes that the punishment did not exist, and thereby he really wishes also that the Good did not exist, for otherwise he must have another relation to the Good than the one that he has through punishment. Now punishment does exist, and so he performs the Good out of fear of punishment. But the one that wills the Good in truth, understands that punishment only exists for the sake of the transgressors. He devoutly understands that punishment is like all other things which fall to the lot of one who loves God. It is a helping hand. The double-minded person shuns punishment as a suffering, a misfortune, an evil, and thereby detaches himself and his understanding from punishment, and wholly detaches punishment from the Good. This obstinacy is like the infantile notion of a child, who in his lack of judgment even sets up a cleft in the father’s nature; for the child imagines that the father is the loving one, that punishment on the other hand is something that a bad man has invented. That the loving father himself should have invented the punishment out of love for the child would not become apparent to the child. So also with the relation between the Good and punishment. It is the Good who, out of love for the pupil, has invented punishment. We all go to school, only life’s school is for adults. For this reason the punishment is of a more serious kind than in a children’s school. It is less obvious, and therefore all the more serious; less immediate, and therefore all the more serious; less external, and therefore all the more serious. It does not follow blow for blow upon the mistake, and therefore all the more serious; one has not been spared because it may seem as if the punishment had been forgotten, hence it is all the more serious. Yet by this seriousness punishment does in truth press one toward the Good, if one really wills it. Doubleness of mind has no desire to do that. It continues to have an effeminate, sensuous conception of punishment, and an impotent will for the Good. It often happens with such a double-minded person, that the older he gets the more impoverished his life becomes: when his youth, in which there was something better than fear, is spent, and when fearfulness and cleverness conspire together in order to make him into a slave, if one wishes to put it so -- to the Good. It is so different with the one who wills the Good in truth. He is the only one who is free, made free by the Good. However, a man does not in truth will the Good if he only wills it out of fear of punishment, and hence is only in a state of slavery to the Good.
Yet double-mindedness seldom dwells on eternity’s punishment. The punishment it fears is more often understood in an earthly and temporal sense. Of a man who only wills the Good out of fear of punishment, it is necessary to say with special emphasis, that he fears what a man should not and ought not to fear: loss of money, loss of reputation, misjudgment by others, neglect, the world’s judgment, the ridicule of fools, the laughter of the frivolous, the cowardly whining of consideration, the inflated triviality of the moment, the fluttering mist-forms of vapor. Yes, this double-minded man becomes as unsteady in all his ways as the one who willed the Good for the sake of the reward, because he is continually intent upon what is in flux, upon what is always changing, and he fears continually that which no man should fear. He fears that which has power to wound, maltreat, ruin, or strike dead the body, but which has no power whatever over the soul unless it obtains it through fear. Should a man love neither the earth, nor the pleasures of the eye, nor the pleasures of the flesh, nor a haughty life; should he covet neither what is the world’s, the possession of money and prestige among men, then he shall fear neither what is the world’s, neither the world nor men, neither poverty nor the expelling hand of persecution. If he fears these things, then he is the prey of double-mindedness, just as in this double-mindedness he is the slave of mankind.
Yes, there is a sense of shame, that is favorable to the Good. Woe to the man who casts it off! This sense of shame is a saving companion through life. Woe to the man that breaks with it! It is in the service of sanctification and of true freedom. Woe to the man who is scandalized by it as if it were a compulsion! If a man goes alone through life, according to the word of the Scriptures(Genesis 2:18) that is not good, yet if he goes accompanied by that shame, oh, he shall become good and become one thing. And if the solitary one should stumble, if this sense of shame were still his companion, then we should not cry out as the book of Ecclesiastes does, "Woe to him that is alone," nor say of the solitary one, as does Ecclesiastes, "If he falls, who shall help him up."(Ecclesiastes 4:10.) For this sense of shame intends to serve him better than the best friend. It will help him better than all human sympathy which easily leads into double-mindedness -- not into willing one thing. There is no question but what a man usually acts more intelligently, shows more strength, and to all appearances more self-control, when under the scrutiny of others than when he believes himself to be unobserved. But the question is whether this intelligence, this strength, this self-control is real, or whether through the devotion of long-continued attention to it, it does not easily slip into the lie of simulation which kindles the unsteady blush of double-mindedness in his soul. Each one who is not more ashamed before himself than before all others, if he is placed in difficulty and much tried in life, will in one way or another end by becoming the slave of men. For to be more ashamed in the presence of others than when alone, what else is this than to be more ashamed of seeming than of being? And turned about, should not a man be more ashamed of what he is than of what he seems? For otherwise he cannot in truth will one thing, since by trying to appear well in the eyes of others he is only striving after a changing shimmer and its reflection in human favor.
The clever one, who fears the judgment of others and is ashamed before others -- if he is not ashamed most of all before himself, ah, perhaps his cunning might succeed in becoming undetectable, it might permit him to imagine that it was already unfathomable; and so, what then? This one who does not misuse his power because he fears the judgment of men and of being ashamed before men -- if he is not ashamed most of all before himself, ah, perhaps either he himself or some eye-servant might even succeed in imagining that it could be done so craftily that not even God could see through it; and so, what then? Indeed it is unnecessary for the talk to wait for what will happen, that is, to wait for the outcome of his double-mindedness. For the talk is only about the presence of double-mindedness in him, and that is already obvious. Whether it becomes obvious to men or not, double-mindedness is none the less present, and the double-minded person is to be pitied. For let us not forget that truth is right in saying of each one who is in untruth, that he is indeed to be pitied, even when he himself and all men think him fortunate. Because, in the sense of truth, it does not help a man that he does not know that he is to be pitied, for this is only a further misfortune. But the one that is most ashamed of himself when he is alone, is thereby strengthened in willing one thing. However crafty this cunning may have been, the inventor himself can still see through it. Let it, then, be hidden from all men, no matter how its hiddenness might be able to support him, yet he could not hide it from that inner companion, before whom he is most of all ashamed.
We do not mean to imply here, that a man has ever lived, even in the most corrupt age, for whom no person existed whose judgment he might and could well fear with a wholesome shame, a person whose judgment could be a guide to him in order to will the Good in truth. But if this shame before the honored person is in truth to become a source of benefit to the humble man, then there is an indispensable condition: that the person must be ashamed most of all before himself. Therefore one could rightly say that in truth it is most beneficial of all to a man to feel shame before one who is already dead. And if he feels this humiliation before a living person, then to feel it before him as if he were already dead, or (if it seems more to your liking, my listener, I will use another expression, that means the same thing, although it contains the explanation in an aesthetic form) : to feel ashamed before him as before a transfigured one. One already dead is just such a transfigured one. One who is living can indeed be mistaken, can be changed, can be stampeded in a moment and by the moment. If, in truth, he is a genuinely honorable person, he himself will, by way of warning, remind you of this in order that by your relationship with him you may not be led into that double-mindedness, which lies in being the follower of another. The living person may perhaps favor you too much -- perhaps too little. If you see him each day, your shame will perhaps lose something of its intensity or perhaps bring on itself an acute disease, so that you could wish to possess a magic means of deceiving the revered one, so that you wished to be able to ingratiate yourself with him or by any means to raise yourself up in his good graces, because his judgment has become for you the most important thing of all. How much danger and temptation to double-mindedness! It does not disappear until you conduct yourself with him, as with one who is dead. Withdraw from him -- but never forget him. That only leaves when you are separated from him as though by death, when in earthly or temporal fashion you do not come too near him, but only forever remember what he himself would have termed the best thing in his nature! A man cannot get round a transfigured one. Favor and persuasion and overhastiness belong to the moments of earthly life. The departed one does not notice these appearances, the transfigured one cannot understand them. He does not wish to understand them.
If you will not give them up, then you must give him up; then you must, if you dare, offend the transfigured one, break with him, yes, annihilate him. For when he is not the transfigured one, then he simply does not exist. With the living one, you may speak in another manner, because he also exists in the earthly sense, and if you get him changed a little -- alas, to what other end than to your own destruction and to his disparagement! It would be as if you still had him to hold to, you had his words, his audible approval, and in the union between you two perhaps it would escape you both that a change had taken place. But the transfigured one exists only as transfigured, not visibly to the earthly eye, not audibly to the earthly ear, only in the sacredly still silence of shame. He cannot be changed, not in the least particular, without its being instantly noted, and without all being lost, and without his vanishing. The transfigured one exists only as transfigured. He cannot be changed into anything better. He is the transfigured one. He cannot be altered. He is indeed a departed one. He remains true to himself, one and the same -- this glorified one! How, then, could it be possible for one to become double-minded who by feeling ashamed before such a one is strengthened in willing the Good! However, even the most upright man can nevertheless be surprised by many frailties and occasionally may go astray. But then he has a hope: that there exists a God, a just government of the universe, that by punishment will awaken him and lead him back. How different it is! He that wills the Good in truth even hopes for the punishment; but that man who in his double-mindedness only wills the Good out of fear of punishment is far from willing the Good in truth.
The double-minded person stands at a parting of the ways, where two visions appear: the Good and the terrifying figure of punishment. The two do not belong together in his eyes, for while punishment, which God in His wisdom has connected with every transgression, is a Good, there is no denying that it is such a Good only when it is gratefully received, not when it is simply feared as an evil. But the double-minded person rarely has this Divine punishment in mind. He thinks rather of the world’s punishment. But the Good and the punishment the world metes out are not identical. Or has the world perhaps really become so perfect and so holy, that it is like God, and that what it rewards is the Good and what it punishes, the evil? Or would any person who believes that he has received at God’s hand an intimation of the life according to which he desires to model his own life, could such a man really think of worshiping the world in this way? To be sure, one may hear -- especially in the places where men festively gather in order to deceive one another by many speeches -- one may hear magnificent words about how the world progresses, and about our age and about our century. But, my listener, would you dare, as a father (and I feel confident that you have a lofty conception of the meaning of this name, a responsible conception of the charge which it lays upon you) would you dare, as a father, to say to your child as you sent him out into the world, "Go, with your mind at ease, my child, pay attention to what the many approve and what the world rewards, for that is the Good, but what the world punishes, that is evil. It is no longer true as it used to be, that the judgment of the masses is like foam on water -- nonsense, though loudly proclaimed; blind, though sharply decisive; impossible to follow because it changes more swiftly than a woman changes color. Now, there is no longer any doubt about the outcome, the Good is immediately victorious. Now, the Good exacts no sacrifice, no self-denial, for the world desires the Good. Now, the judgment of the masses is the judgment of the wise men, the solitary ones are the fools. Now, the earth is the kingdom of God, and Heaven is only a reflection of it. Now, the world is the highest certainty, the only one a man can build upon, the only one a man can swear by."
Surely, my listener, the speech need not ask you, for it vests assured in advance what your answer would be. But I would like to ask of the most ardent attender of those festivities: would you dare, if you should speak as a father to your own child, would you dare say any such thing? Or if it were the youth that, with all the earnest devotion of his soul, fixed his trusting gaze on you, assured that if, you said it, it must be so, and in gratitude, bound by a solemn vow to follow the guidance of your counsel through life; would you dare give him any such counsel? Or if you were witness to that lovable young man’s beautiful enthusiasm when he read and heard of the great men who fought with a heavy destiny and suffered badly in the world, the glorious ones whom earth renounced because it was not worthy of them, would you dare, when no clamor caused your speech to wander but when the stillness of intimacy, of the lovable one’s confidence, the in experience of the young man, all obliged you to tell the truth; at such a time would you dare lay your hand on your heart and say, "Such things no longer happen. Now the world has become enlightened and perfect. Now: to seek first after this world and its customs is identical with what was meant in former times by seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness."
Alas, gradually as a man gets older, he grows accustomed to a great deal in life. Among other things, he gets in the habit of saying much that he has not properly reflected upon. Among contemporaries he gets into the way of hedging round what he says by so many presuppositions that that which is plain and elevating is almost forgotten. Now and then a word is let drop that expresses a plain and solid exasperation of long standing, "You know well enough what kind of world we live in." And at other times the world is praised to the point of idolatry, without either of these statements making any very deep impression on the one who speaks them. For the first does not arouse him. It does not frighten him into a condition of fear and trembling in which he resolves to save himself since the world is so bad. And the other does not strengthen the speaker into an eager desire for the Good by confidence in the perfection of the world. Alas, along with others in this life, he gets accustomed, amid the dull round of habit, almost to abandon himself as he plays about with mere words.
But when even the most tragic of life’s spoiled children seriously admonishes a child, a youth, a maiden, he speaks with shame. There is at this point a beautiful reciprocity, for the youth approaches his elder with shame and the elder in admonishing the youth always speaks with shame. May God grant that all who have an opportunity to admonish youth may themselves derive some benefit from the shame which comes with the admonishment!
In the act of admonishing, and this deserves emphasis, the older person shall by no means set before the youth a horrifying picture of the world. To do so is never earnestness, but is only sickly imagination. But in the act of admonishing, he will shrink before the thought of leading the youth straight into the danger of double-mindedness by deceptively focusing his attention upon the punishment the world metes out. For in this, instead of impressing upon him a holy fear and shame before the Good, he is polluting the pure one by teaching him the fear of loss of money, loss of reputation, misjudgment by others, neglect, the world’s judgment, the ridicule of fools, the laughter of the frivolous, the cowardly whining of consideration, the inflated triviality of the moment, the fluttering mist-forms of vapor. Alas, for many men these elevated thoughts are only too often like a gilding, that wears off in life’s double-mindedness, which gnaws and gnaws. But even the man whom double-mindedness has eaten most bare, when he speaks admonishingly to a youth, is reminded that, out of shame, he dare say but one thing. In the act of admonishing even he will say (for it is no rare speaker that is here introduced to talk, and just on that account the praise of the Good is so much the more glorious because it does not require the approval of eloquence, for here it is well to note that it is one of life’s most tragically spoiled children who speaks admonishingly to a youth) even he will say, "Do not be afraid, be slow to judge others, but attend closely to yourself, hold firmly to willing one thing, to willing the Good in truth, and thus, from now on, let this lead you wherever for now it will lead you -- because eternally it will lead you to victory. In this world let it lead you to prosperity or poverty, to honor or insult, to life or death: only do not let go this one thing. By its hand you may walk confidently even in danger. Even in danger of your life itself you may go as confidently as a child who clasps the mother’s hand. Yes, even more confidently, for the child does not even know the danger." In the act of admonishing, therefore, a man should warn against fear of the world’s punishment, which is double-mindedness.
Now and then someone speaks of "suffering punishment, when one does the Good." How is that possible? From whom shall that punishment come? Certainly not from God! Is it, then, from the world -- so that when in its wisdom the world is mistaken, it rewards the bad and punishes the Good? And yet no, it is not as that word "world" implies. The word does not mean what it says. It is improperly expressed. For the word "world" sounds great and terrifying, and yet it must obey the same law as the most insignificant and miserable man. But even if the world gathered all its strength, there is one thing it is not able to do, it can no more punish an innocent one than it can put a dead person to death.
To be sure the world has power. It can lay many a burden upon the innocent one. It can make his life sour and laborious for him. It can rob him of his life. But it cannot punish an innocent one. How wonderful, here is a limit, a limit that is invisible, like a line that is easy to overlook with the senses, but one that has the strength of eternity in resisting any infringement. This may be overlooked by the world whose attention is focused upon that which is big -- and the limit is insignificant, is for the present, a quiet-mannered nobody, but yet it is there. Perhaps it is completely hidden from the eyes of the world. For that, too, can be a part of the innocent one’s suffering, that the world’s injustice takes on the appearance of punishment -- in the world’s eyes. But the limit is nevertheless there, and is in spite of all the strongest. And even if all the world rose up in tumult and even if everything were thrown into confusion: the limit is nevertheless there. And on the one side of it with the innocent ones is justice; and on the other side toward the world is an eternal impossibility of punishing an innocent one. Even if the world wishes to annihilate an innocent man and put him out of the way, it cannot put the limit out of the way, even though it be invisible. (Perhaps it is just on that account.) Even in the moment of his sacrificial death, the limit is there: then it stretches itself with the strength of eternity, then it cleaves itself with eternity’s all-encompassing depth. The limit is there, and on the one side with the innocent ones is justice, and on the other side toward the world is an eternal impossibility of punishing an innocent one.
When the good man truly stands on the other side of the boundary line inside the fortification of eternity, he is strong, stronger than the whole world. He is strongest of all at the time when he seems to be overcome. But the impotent double-minded one has removed the boundary limit, because he only wills the Good out of fear of earth’s punishment. If the world is not really the land of perfection, then by his double-mindedness he has surrendered himself to the power of mediocrity or pledged himself to the evil.