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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 6:Barriers to Willing One Thing: Egocentric Service of the Good


3. Furthermore it must be said that the man who wills the Good and wills its victory out of a self-centered willfulness does not will one thing. He is double-minded.

Suppose a man wills the Good simply in order that he may score the victory, then he wills the Good for the sake of the reward, and his double-mindedness is obvious, as the previous section of the talk has sought to point out. Actually he does not care to serve the Good, but to have the advantage of regarding it as a fruit of conquest. When, on the contrary, a man desires that the Good shall be victorious, when he will not call the outcome of the battle "victory," if he wins, but only when the Good is victorious: can he then, in any sense, be called and be double-minded? Yes, and yet if he be double-minded (for the decision as to the boundary line between the pure and the double-minded is here of a singular complexity), then his double-mindedness is more subtle and concealed, more presumptuous than that obvious and out- and-out worldly sort. It is a powerful deception that seems nearest of all to approach the purity of heart that wills the Good in truth, even though it is at the other pole from it, just as the high place is from the deep chasm, just as heaven-storming pride is from humility’s dwelling in the low places, just as if a pretentiously plausible approximation had been won by falsifying a line of separation that was eternally real. He does not will the Good for the sake of the reward. He wills that the Good shall triumph through him, that he shall be the instrument, he the chosen one. He does not desire to be rewarded by the world -- that he despises; nor by men -- that he looks down upon. And yet he does not wish to be an unprofitable servant.(Compare Luke 17:10.) The reward which he insists upon is a sense of pride and in that very demand is his violent double- mindedness. Yes, violent, for what else does he wish than to take the Good by storm, and by force to press himself and his service upon the Good! And if he will not give up this last presumptuousness, if he, in some way, does not desire what the Good wills, if he does not desire the Good’s victory after the fashion that the Good wills it: then he is double-minded. Even if he knows how to hide it from men, even if he hides it from himself, even if the true expression of the language seems for a moment to hide it by calling his condition of mind self-will, willfulness, for that sounds well, especially when it is strong enough to venture the most extreme things: does that seem to be double-mindedness? No, it does not seem to be double-mindedness, but it is.

In the eyes of this double-minded person the Good is one thing, its victory is another, and its victory through him may even be something else. Now it is indeed the case, that eternally the Good has always been victorious. But in time it is otherwise, temporally it may take a long time. The victory is slow, its uncertainty is a slow measure of length. Again and again the faithful servant’s life ends, and it seemed, at his death, as if he had accomplished nothing for the Good. And yet he was a faithful servant, who willed the Good in truth, and he was also loved by the Good, that prizes obedience more than the "fat of the ram." "Alas, why does time exist; if the Good eternally has always been victorious, why should it then creep slowly forward throughout the length of time or almost perish in time’s slowness? Why should it fight laboriously through that which makes time the longest, through uncertainty? Why should the solitary ‘individuals,’(See translator’s introduction.) who sincerely will the Good, be so scattered, so separated, that they can scarcely call out to one another, scarcely catch sight of one another? Why should time hang like a weight upon them? Why should separation involve them in delay, when it is so swiftly accomplished in eternity? Why was an immortal spirit placed in the world and in time, just as the fish is drawn up out of the water and cast upon the beach?" Whoever talks in this questioning vein (and even if he say it amid groans, the utterance is the same), should be on his guard, for he scarcely knows by what spirit he is speaking. Alas, men often enough confuse impatience with humble, obedient enthusiasm; impatience even lends itself to this confusion. When a man is active early and late "for the sake of the Good," storming about noisily and restlessly, hurling himself into time, as a sick man throws himself down upon his bed, throwing off all consideration for himself, as a sick man throws off his clothes, scornful of the world’s reward; when such a man makes a place among men, then the masses think what he himself imagines, that he is inspired. And yet he is at the other pole from that, for he is double-minded, and double-mindedness no more resembles inspiration than a whirlwind resembles the steadiness of the standing wind.

So it is with all impatience. It is a kind of ill-temper. Its root is already in the child, because the child will not take time for things. With the double-minded one, it is thus clear that time and eternity cannot rule in the same man. He cannot, he will not, understand the Good’s Slowness; that out of mercy, the Good is slow; that out of love for free persons, it will not use force; that in its wisdom toward the frail ones, it shrinks from any deception. He cannot, he will not, humbly understand that the Good can get on without him. He is double-minded, he that with his enthusiasm could apparently become an apostle, but can quite as readily become a Judas, who treacherously wishes to hasten the victory of the Good. He is scandalized, he that by his enthusiasm seems to love the Good so highly. He is scandalized by its poverty, when it is clothed in the slowness of time. He is not devoted to the Good in service that may profit nothing. He only effervesces, and he that effervesces loves the moment. And he that loves the moment fears time, he fears that the course of time will reveal his double-mindedness, and he falsifies eternity; for otherwise eternity might still more effectively reveal his double-mindedness. He is a falsifier. For him eternity is the deceptive sensory illusion of the horizon; for him eternity is the bluish haze that limits time; for him eternity is the dazzling sleight-of-hand trick executed by the moment.

Such a double-minded person is perhaps hardly recognizable in this world, because his double-mindedness not evident inside the world. The world’s reward and punishment do not serve as informers against him; for he has overcome the world, even if by a higher deception. Hence his double-mindedness is first recognizable at the boundary where time and eternity touch upon each other. There it is clear and is always recognized by the all-knowing One. He will not be content with the blessed assurance which comforts beyond all measure: that eternally the Good has always been victorious; the blessed assurance which is a security that passeth all understanding; the blessed assurance that the unprofitable servant may have within himself at each moment, even when the time is the longest and he seems to have accomplished least of all, the blessed assurance which allows the unprofitable servant if he loses honor to speak more proudly than that royal word: All is lost save honor.(These words are attributed to Francis I as having been spoken after the battle of Pavia where he was taken prisoner.) the words And when even honor is lost to say: Nothing is lost, but all is gained.

But this double-minded person is not so easily recognizable on earth. He does not will the Good for the sake of reward, for then he would have become obvious in his aspiration or in his despair. He does not will the Good out of fear of punishment, for then he would have become obvious in his cowardice, in his shunning of punishment, or in his despair, when he was not able to avoid it. No, he wishes to sacrifice all, he fears nothing, only he will not sacrifice himself in daily self-forgetfulness. This he fears to do.

The double-minded man stands at a parting of the ways, and sees there two apparitions: the Good, and the Good in its victory, or even in its victory through him. This latter is presumptuousness, but even the first two apparitions are not wholly the same. In eternity they are the same, but not in time. And they must be kept apart. The Good so wills it. The Good puts on the slowness of time as a poor garment, and in keeping with this change of dress one who serves it must be clothed in the insignificant figure of the unprofitable servant. With the eye of his senses he is not permitted to see the Good in victory. Only with the eye of faith can he strive after its eternal victory. Therein lies his double-mindedness. For as there is a double -- mindedness which divides up the nature of the Good which the Good has united for all eternity: so is his double -- mindedness of that sort that unites what the Good in time has set apart. The one double-minded person forgets the Eternal and on that account misuses time, the other misuses eternity.

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