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Review: Willing But Weak

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Posted by Jonathan Frais, 23 Apr 2021

Jonathan Frais reviews Paul Williams' book on self-control.

Willing But Weak: Fighting to put Self-Control at the Heart of Christian Discipleship, Paul Williams

This is a small book with a big aim: to fix self-control in our minds as something extraordinary. The message works out of a particular New Testament book, Titus, where self-control expresses the grace of God in our lives. Strikingly, although in Titus other groups need to be taught self-control, for young men it is the single direction given. In the light of this, Williams makes them the foremost people in his mind.

The theme of the book may be the conclusion in the list of the fruit of the Spirit, but the main cross-reference comes from Solomon: “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). Williams comments: “When the walls of a city are broken down, anything can get in” (p19) – and he wants to stop that. So he offers wisdom which reaches out to those encountering temptation (‘walls strengthened’) and also those who have fallen and need restoration (‘walls rebuilt’). In addition, the author sometimes stops to consider the different types of people who might be reading the book and addresses them separately.

Several historic influences may be discerned in the writer’s approach. In the mode of the Reformers, there is a strong call to read Scripture; in the manner of the Puritans, there is broad pastoral application; in the way of the evangelical revivalists, there is a plea to be thoroughly converted; in the pattern of recent expositors, there is clear structure to assist understanding and remembering. Above all, the gospel is the driving principle – with the Holy Spirit empowering us for obedience.
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Motivation and speech are a fundamental issue: “My tongue is a window into my heart. When I speak words that are cutting, it is because I have a cruel heart. When I say things that are sharp, it’s because I have bitterness in my heart. When I make destructive remarks, it’s because I am proud. When I aggressively fight back, it may be because I am insecure. Cruelty, bitterness, pride and insecurity are heart issues- issues the gospel addresses” (p57).

There are many other areas of application, each with its own chapter. Teaching in practical godliness is given for alcohol, sex, anger, computers and money. Personal disciplines are also given space. These are prayer, reading the Bible, reading other books, exercise, and the use of time. The language is simple and accessible, the book full of ‘pictures’ (illustrations in word), and the approach like a fireside chat from a favourite uncle to a much-loved nephew. This would be ideal as a present on an eighteenth birthday or when starting out as a student, or as a Baptism or Confirmation gift.

A previous age would have said this was a book on holiness which calls us to smash the idols of our day. Williams does not fudge these issues: he observes how our culture replaces God the Creator with the self-made man, God the Saviour with what money can buy, and God the Comforter with retail therapy; pp85f. But there is no self-righteousness here. Instead, this book has a humility which is flagged up in the title and runs through the text as the author presses his case with personal references, examples from ministry, and touches of humour. Read it and be refreshed in life and encouraged in ministry. Put it into practice and grasp the vision for the extraordinary – a life of self-control; whatever your age.

Jonathan Frais is Rector of St Mark's Church, Bexhill-on-Sea.

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