The Chief End of Man Part 17
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Next, the Wesleyan movement, quickening the English heart and conscience, and sending the wave which did in a degree for the West of America what Puritanism and Quakerism did for the East.
Then the uprising in France,--the passionate aspiration for "liberty, equality, fraternity,"--at war with Christianity, instead of at one with it like English freedom, and working great and mixed results.
We see the American republic, founded by a blending of hard common sense, experience, devotion, and widening purpose, and best typified in Washington.
In Lincoln the problem of the American commonwealth--to maintain unity, yet purify itself--and the problem of a human life are both solved by the old virtues, honesty, self-rule, self-devotion.
The present movement of the world is toward a nobler social order. It is to lift the common man upward, on material good as a stepping-stone, toward the height of the saint and seer. This is the better soul of democracy, the noble element in politics, the reformation in the churches, the bond of sympathy with Christ.
Along with this goes a new personal ideal, exemplified in Emerson,--accepting the present world as the symbol and instrument of a celestial destiny. "Contenting himself with obedience, man becomes divine."
In the Gospel history, the figures of the woman and the child take a high place. In Jesus himself the feminine element blent with the masculine. Medieval religion and art found their best symbol in the figure of the mother clasping her babe. Our modern time is giving freedom to woman and recognizing her equality with man, and we are learning that the secret of the world's advance lies in the right training of children under natural law. So the sentiment which grows up in the natural relations of life is elevated by religion, then developed and perfected by freedom and by science.
For us the practical problem is the cultivation of the religious nature along with the other elements of a complete manhood. We are not obliged by intellectual process to create a religious sentiment in ourselves. We inherit that sentiment. It is like the sense of purity or of beauty,--beyond demonstration, except the demonstration of experience. We need only to supply the right conditions for its education and application.
The belief that the spiritual life was dependent on certain institutions and beliefs was the key to the ecclesiastical tyranny of the past. We have virtually escaped that tyranny. Now, in the atmosphere of freedom, we cultivate the spiritual life, and it proves deeper and fairer than ever before.
When Charles Lyell addressed himself to the problems of geology, he found that his predecessors in the study had accounted for all the stupendous phenomena whose story is written in the earth's crust, on the supposition of vast catastrophic disturbances in the remote past, because they held that these effects were too prodigious to have been wrought by the ordinary slow processes of nature with which we are familiar. Lyell took up the question by the near and homely end. He patiently watched the workings of heat and cold, sunshine and rain and frost, summer and winter, in the fields about his own house. He learned there what these familiar forces are capable of, in what directions they operate, and in them he found the clew to the story of the past aeons. Right about his doorstep were the magicians that had done it all.
That illustrates the process of discovery in the spiritual universe. We are not to soar up into infinity to find God. The only air that will support our wings is that which encircles closely this familiar planet.
Let us look for a divine significance in homely things.
Here is Goodness. It is right about us, in people whom we know and meet every day, plainly visible to eyes that know how to see it. Here are all its forms. Innocence,--the very image of it looks upon you from many a child's face. Courage, firmness, self-control,--you may read them in the lines of many a manly countenance. Purity,--who has not felt its hallowing regard fall upon him from the eyes of maid and matron? Pity, tenderness, sympathy,--these angels move about us in human forms, and he that hath eyes to see them sees.
Fineness of character must be recognized by sympathetic observation.
There must be the watchful attentiveness, like that of the sculptor studying his subject, the hunter tracking his prey. And there must be in the observer himself some quality akin to that he would detect. Only the good see goodness, only the lover sees love. A mother would convey to her little daughter some full sense of the motherly feeling that yearns within her, but how can it be done? In just one way: let that daughter grow up and have children of her own, _then_ she will know how her mother felt.
Would we know something of the Divine Mother-heart? We must first get in ourselves something of the mother-feeling. "Every one that loveth knoweth God and is born of God."
Perhaps there has been given to us some human friend,--parent or comrade, husband or wife,--in whom as nowhere else we see the beauty of the soul.
Best, divinest gift of life is such a friend as that,--a friend who fills toward us a place like that to which our poet so nobly aspires:--
"You shall not love me for what daily spends, You shall not know me on the noisy street, Where I, as others, follow petty ends; Nor when in fair saloons we chance to meet; Nor when I 'm jaded, sick, anxious, or mean; But love me then and only, when you know Me for the channel of the rivers of God, From deep, ideal, fontal heavens that flow."
Sometimes the friend whose goodness so touches us as with the very presence of God is one whom we have never seen. To millions of hearts that place has been filled by Christ.
These lines of Emerson--heroic idealist that he was--ask to be loved only when he is at his highest, and so is felt as a revelation of something higher than himself. But our best friends--comrade, mother, or wife--love the ideal soul in us, and love us no less when we are "jaded, sick, anxious, or mean," covering with exquisite pity our infirmities, and by their nobility lifting us out of our baseness. And in that affection which embraces our best and our worst, those human friends are the symbols--yes, and are part of the reality--of the Divine love.
And what is all beauty, all grandeur, but the manifestation, through the eye to the soul, of the one Supreme Being? The mountains, the sea, the sunset, touch us with more than pleasure: they stir in us some awe, some mystic delight, some profound recognition of sacred reality. How can we better frame the wonder in speech than by saying, "Just as my friend's face manifests to me my friend, so Nature is as the very face of the living God"?
In the processes of human life,--the life we live and the life we see,--there is discernible a significance which grows more impressive, more solemn, more inspiring, just as we learn to read it intelligently.
What a wonderful drama is this play of human lives,--this perpetual tragedy and comedy, of which some slight and faint transcript finds expression in the pages of poet and novelist! We needs must continually see and feel something of it, but we are apt to miss its best significance. What fastens our attention most in our experience, or in what we sympathetically watch in others, is the element of enjoyment or suffering. Pain and pleasure are so very, very real! We ache, and we are sorry for another's ache; we are joyous, and glad in another's joy.
And there it often stops with us. But all the while something is working under the pain and pleasure. Character is being made or marred. Yonder man bleeds, and you sigh for him,--ah! but a hero is being moulded there.
And here one thrives and prospers, expands and radiates,--but a spiritual bankruptcy is approaching.
When we look closely and deeply at the world about us,--whether at this ordered world of nature, moving steadily in its unbroken and majestic course, or at the external aspect of grandeur and loveliness, or at the drama in which all men are actors, as it is disclosed to insight and sympathy, or at the inner world of each one's personal experience,--do we not find ourselves in the perpetual presence of Goodness, Order, Beauty, Love? Are not these the very presence of Deity?
"But," you say, "there is also confusion to be seen,--what does that signify?" Just so fast as human intelligence advances, it finds that what seemed disorder is really governed by strictest order. You say, "We see ugliness as well as beauty,--what does that mean?" Ugliness serves its purpose in aiding by repulsion to train the sense of beauty. Beauty, and man's delight in it, is the end; ugliness, and our repulsion from it, is but an incident and means. You say, "We see wickedness,--what of that?" May we not hope that wickedness, in the broad survey of mankind's upward progress, is the stumbling of a child over its alphabet?
The instinct that the shadow is the servant of the light, that seeming disorder, ugliness, sin are but veiled instruments of good,--this seems one of the truths which flash upon mankind in gleams, and which as the race rises actually into nobler life tend to become clear and steadfast conviction.
It is the vastness of the Divinity that overwhelms us. Suppose a man, simple-hearted and imaginative, who, in a distant country, has read of America, and has fashioned her in his thoughts as a heroic female figure,--a kind of goddess. He has taken as literal reality such poetic descriptions as those in Lowell's "Commemoration Ode" and Emerson's "Boston Hymn,"--
"Lo! I uncover the land Which I hid of old time in the West, As a sculptor uncovers the statue When he has wrought his best."
And he comes to you and says, "Show me America!" And you show him a little of this country, its mountains and lakes and rivers, its shops and farms and people. He is interested and gratified. Yet this is not what he expected; and he says, "But show me America,--that radiant, heroic form, that goddess to charm the eyes and the heart." And you tell him: "But America is too great to be taken in so, at a glance. You have just begun to see it. You have seen New England's hill-farms, but you have not seen the prairies of the West. You have seen the Penobscot and Kennebec, the Connecticut and Hudson; but you have yet to see the Mississippi and Niagara. I have taken you to Katahdin and Monadnock and Mount Washington, but you have yet to behold the Alleghanies and the Rockies and Tacoma. Our people you have just begun to see: our armies of free toilers, our happy households, our strong men and lovely women,--these you are only beginning to know." And he says, perhaps: "But all this is so diffuse, so various, so difficult to comprehend! I had fancied _America_ as some one beautiful, some one to love. How can one love such a scattered, immense, diversified thing as this you describe to me?" Well, you tell him: "You may not understand it yet awhile; but this country which you say is not a thing to love was in peril of its life a few years ago, and it was so loved that men by hundreds of thousands left home, and risked life and all for it, and their mothers and wives and sisters sent them forth. That is how America can be loved!"
In some such fashion as this do we grope after a God whom we can comprehend at a glance; and, lo! his presence fills the universe. "Say not, Who shall ascend into heaven to bring him down, or who shall descend into hell to bring him up? for he is nigh thee, before thy eyes and in thy heart."
The chief revelation we need is the education of our own perceptive powers. Sir John Lubbock has pointed out, in a very striking passage, that the material world may convey itself through other senses than the five which we possess, that there may be innumerable other senses, and that some of these may perhaps be already developed in other creatures than man. Such a suggestion stirs our curiosity and desire; but how few of us have learned to rightly use the five senses we have! And of the moral perceptions we have but a most rudimentary development. We are unconscious of most of the world we live in, unconscious even of what many of our fellow-men discern. Did you ever happen to be in the presence of a sunset, flooding the heavens with glory, with a companion who showed no sign of perceiving the splendor? Ah! perhaps he was blinded to it by some secret grief or care, some trouble which you might have discovered in him and comforted, had your sympathy been as acute as your sense of beauty. But did his blindness, whatever its cause, suggest to you that you perhaps were at that moment in the presence of sublime realities, to which your consciousness was closed as his was to the sunset?
To recognize consciously the spiritual elements in the universe belongs partly to a right cultivation of character, and partly it is due to natural endowment, to an intellectual faculty. It is not, after all, of so much account that we _see_ the divine in life as that we have it in ourselves. In this one sentence, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," Jesus puts spiritual vision as the result of a moral quality. But it is the moral quality itself on which, in one form and another, his blessing is constantly pronounced. So, if you say, "I cannot see,--God is in no sense visible to me," yet there remain still most precious gifts, if you will take them. Blessed are the gentle, the peacemakers, the merciful, they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the sympathetic, the stout-hearted, the open-eyed, the open-handed; plain and simple and sure are these benedictions.
The presence of Divinity which it is most essential that we recognize is the choice perpetually presented to us between a higher and a lower course of action. Whether one has the joyful, uplifting vision is of small consequence in comparison with whether he steadily chooses and follows the right.
No one can be reasoned or persuaded into any living faith in God or immortality, any more than reason and persuasion can draw from the cold April furrow the field of waving wheat. The faith _grows_ in the individual and in the race, under that culture to which the higher powers subject us,--a culture in which the elements are experience and fidelity, thought and action, love and loss, aspiration and achievement. Love and Loss, the sweetest angel and the sternest one, join their hands to give us that gift of the immortal hope.
If one asks, How shall I gain faith in God and hope of immortality? what better answer can we give him than this: Be faithful, live, and love!
Work and love press their treasures on you with full hands. Open your eyes to the glory of the universe. Watch the world's new life quickening in bud and bird-song. Get into sympathetic current with the hearts around you. Be sincere; be a man. Keep open-minded to all knowledge, and keep humble in the sense of your ignorance. Seek the company that ennobles, the scenes that ennoble, the books that ennoble. In your darkest hour, set yourself to brighten another's life. Be patient. If an oak-tree takes a century to get its growth, shall a man expect to win his crown in a day? Find what word of prayer you can sincerely say, and say it with your heart. Look at the moral meanings of things. Learn to feel through your own littleness that higher power out of which comes all the good in you. Join yourself to men wherever you can find them in that noblest attitude, true worship of a living God. Know that to mankind are set two teachers of immortality, and see to it that you so faithfully learn of Love that Sorrow when she comes shall perfect the lesson.
Love in its simplest and most common forms is often strangely wise. Many a mother learns from the light of her baby's eyes more than all wisdom of books can teach. When the little, unconscious thing is taken from her arms, there is given to her sometimes a feeling, "My baby is _mine_ forever;" a feeling in whose presence we stand in reverent, tender awe.
It is not every experience of bereavement which brings with it this uplift of comfort. But to the noble love of a noble object there comes the sense of something in the beloved that outlasts death. To the _noble_ love, for most of our affection has a selfish strain in it; the clinging to another for what of present enjoyment he yields to us brings small illumination or assurance. But as self loses itself in another's life, there comes to us the deep instinct of something over which death has no power. Above all, when we unselfishly love one in whom dwells moral nobility,--when it is a great and vital and holy nature to which we join ourselves,--there comes to us a profound and pregnant sense of its immortality. It is when death's stroke has fallen that that sense rises into full, triumphant bloom.
No wonder the disciples felt that their Master lived! Theirs was the experience that in substance repeats itself whenever from among those who love it a noble soul goes home. It was because Jesus was supremely noble, and they had loved him with consummate affection, that their experience was so intense and vivid. Its true significance lay in this, that it was not supernatural but natural. It is standing the pyramid on its apex to deduce all human goodness from the goodness of Jesus, and to argue a universal immortality solely from his rising. Let us place the pyramid four-square in the universal truth of human nature. Let us ground our religion upon the moral fidelity, the human love, the spiritual aspiration, and the sober regard for fact, in which all loyal souls can agree. Then at its summit we shall get that character of which Jesus is the type, a character in which self-sacrifice and joy divinely blend, and which in its passage from earth imparts the irresistible assurance of a higher life beyond.
This morning the sun rose upon earth and trees encased in blazing jewelry of ice. Fast, fast the beauty melted and was gone,--and in its place, behold the brown earth touched with living green and teeming with promise; the trees' strong limbs tipped with swelling buds; and over all the tender, brooding sky of spring. Even so, the pageant of the miracle-story dissolves, to give place to the natural consciousness of eternal beauty and eternal life.
A group of Americans meet in a foreign city, and they talk fondly of home, and to each of them home has its special meaning. One says: "I remember the green hill-pastures and the great elms and the white farmhouses; I know just how the autumn woods are looking, and the stocked corn, and the pumpkins ripening in the sun; and I am homesick for a sight of it all." Another says: "It is the nation that I think of. To me America seems the home of the poor man, the common man. She is working out great and difficult questions in government and society, and I have strong faith that the outcome of it all is going to be a great good to the world. I long to take part once more in that national life; and over here among strangers I want at least to Le no discredit to the dear old country, and if possible to pick up some bit of knowledge or experience that I can add to the common stock when I get home." A third man says: "Yes, that's all true; but I don't often think of it in so big a way as that. I want to see my old neighbors. And in these foreign Sundays I get hungry for the old church I've been to ever since I was a boy, and the prayers, and the old tunes." Another, perhaps, is silent; but to his heart all the while are present the faces of his wife and children.
As they end their talk and go out together, up the harbor comes a gallant ship, and at her peak float the stars and stripes; and at the sight through each heart runs a common thrill of love and devotion. One man's thought of home is the broader, and another's is the tenderer; but America is home to them all.
So into each loyal soul there shines a ray from the divine Sun and Soul of the universe. Each, according to his individual capacity, receives of the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.
The Chief End of Man Part 17
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The Chief End of Man Part 17 summary
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