This same principle is implicitly recognized by those theologians who declare that man can “do nothing of himself,” that mere voluntary struggle is useless, and regeneration comes by surrender to grace: by yielding, that is, to the inner urge, to those sources of power which flow in, but are not dragged in. Indications of its truth meet us everywhere in spiritual literature. Thus Jacob Boehme says, “Because thou strivest against that out of which thou art come, thou breakest thyself off with thy own willing from God’s willing." So too the constant invitations to let God work and speak, to surrender, are all invitations to cease anxious strife and effort and give the Divine suggestions their chance. The law of reversed effort, in fact, is valid on every level of life; and warns us against the error of making religion too grim and strenuous an affair. Certainly in all life of the Spirit the will is active, and must retain its conscious and steadfast orientation to God. Heroic activity and moral effort must form an integral part of full human experience. Yet it is clearly possible to make too much of the process of wrestling evil. An attention chiefly and anxiously concentrated on the struggle with sins and weaknesses, instead of on the eternal sources of happiness and power, will offer the unconscious harmful suggestions of impotence and hence tend to frustration. The early ascetics, who made elaborate preparations for dealing with temptations, got as an inevitable result plenty of temptations with which to deal. A sounder method is taught by the mystics. “When thoughts of sin press on thee,” says “The Cloud of Unknowing,” “look over their shoulders seeking another thing, the which thing is God."
These laws of suggestion, taken together, all seem to point, one way. They exhibit the human self as living, plastic, changeful; perpetually modified by the suggestions pouring in on it, the experiences and intuitions to which it reacts. Every thought, prayer, enthusiasm, fear, is of importance to it. Nothing leaves it as it was before. The soul, said Boehme, stands both in heaven and in hell. Keep it perpetually busy at the window of the senses, feed it with unlovely and materialistic ideas, and those ideas will realize themselves. Give the contemplative faculty its chance, let it breathe at least for a few moments of each day the spiritual atmosphere of faith, hope and love, and the spiritual life will at least in some measure be realized by it.