Undoubtedly the most important contribution of the nineteenth century to the store of human knowledge is the doctrine of evolution. We know now that from time immemorial the hidden things of the spiritual world have been coming forth into manifestation in the visible universe through an orderly process of unfolding. From a finite standpoint, everything appears to grow, to evolve, in accordance with absolutely exact, universal laws.
The life of the individual is a growth.
The life of the race is a growth.
Our world seems to be a complicated entanglement of forces and interests when we regard it simply as a struggle amongst individuals, in which only the strongest can survive; but it blends into a consistent expression when we lose the finite, personal thought in the Universal consciousness, and view life from its true center. To do this we must break down the walls of dogmatism, materialism, and selfishness which finite thought has built around us, and which shut out the spiritual vision. In feudal days men sought to protect their lives and fortunes by entrenching themselves in impregnable strongholds and establishing their supremacy as individuals sundered from the body of society. But later there came a violent reaction to balance the equation. Man is no more fitted to live in isolation than is an atom of matter to remain apart from others of its kind. Both alike are endowed with natures that compel them to seek alliances and enter into combinations which tend to produce more highly organic forms. True individualism can only be realized through co-operation.
This is a law of Being. The highest specialization in the several members of the human body is effected through their organic unity in a perfect whole.
Growth has generally been regarded as a consequence of getting, acquiring, and absorbing. But according to the spiritual view, exactly the reverse of this is true—it is due to the impulse to give out, to share, to co-operate, to part with the exclusive life by losing it in a larger existence. He grows most who realizes most of the spirit of giving, losing, abandoning, sacrificing the lower things of life for the greater good.
"Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it."
In this simple act of renouncing personal self-interest for a more inclusive life lies the essence of growth and the key to the eternal life. The law of growth, then, is revealed in the tendency to open out, to expand, to abandon the old for the new, to cut loose from all that binds, restricts, hampers, contracts, enslaves, or limits, and to realize the free life of the Spirit.
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
"Consider the lilies, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
The spiritually discerning man, the man who consciously allows his life to grow instead of striving to determine its course, indicates a tremendous advance in the scale of evolution. When one appreciates this factor, until recently so little recognized, the doctrine of evolution takes on a new significance. This type of man marks the beginning of a radically different order of society, for he will no more fit into the present makeshift than would the Copernican world into a system of the Ptolemaic sort. The new wine "will burst the old wine-skins."
Generally speaking, social bodies, like material ones, are of two descriptions as to their structure and method of formation. Material bodies of the one class, commonly termed "inanimate," are held together by the power of cohesion.
Since they are mere aggregations of particles, they are incapable of spontaneous growth—development from within; they can only be molded and shaped by external agencies, therefore they tend to disintegrate. But those of the other class are fashioned into individual forms, often marvelously exquisite and suggestive, by a vital energy. In the one case, the particles obey an impulse of attraction, apparently of a purely dynamic character; each retains the position it is most naturally drawn to occupy in its unaided, individual capacity, without lending itself to any purely ideal end of a higher origin—such as beauty or proportion. In the other case, the particles are permeated and actuated from within, by a power that causes them to assume forms conceived by a higher Intelligence instead of ones of their own selection, as mere particles. Snow crystals—each a fairy world in itself,— fantastically sculptured forests on the frosted window-pane, dainty mosses, graceful ferns, exquisite blossoms, stately trees, animal forms wonderfully adapted, not alone to the satisfaction of individual wants, but having reference to larger ends,—these and myriad other creations that constitute the outer garment of the invisible world, portray the irresistible yearning of a deep, hidden life to come forth into manifestation. Every creature builds ideally better than it knows. Even its short-sighted deviations from the pattern of the more comprehensive design, are eventually overruled and made to contribute to the perfection of the whole.
To the limited, finite vision, natural selection may appear to be the sole factor in the achievement of this end; but above and beyond this incidental fact of individual choice, which the intellect is able to detect, the omnipresent Spirit is all the while making for ends quite unperceived by the near-sighted, analytical mind. Nor does this universal order of manifestation cease when the human plane is reached. Evolution (evolution, the unfolding process) does not terminate in the conglomerate of disorderly elements at present recognized as "society."
There is a broader, grander ideal to which humanity must eventually conform. This crude, unperfected, embryotic state, in which each participant is heroically striving to undo the work of his neighbor, is not the culmination of human unfolding. Men of the growing, divine type are so constituted by nature that, as social particles, they cannot belong to the class of bodies termed "dead"—bodies that are molded from without and held together by the crude elementary force of cohesion; they must necessarily assume social forms patterned after definite ideals, not ones adopted as a matter of expediency or mere convenience.
A Universal harmonizing, polarizing power operates on every plane of life, tending in the mineral realm to form perfect crystals, in the vegetable realm to produce perfect foliage and flowers, in the animal realm to create perfect sensible organisms, in the human realm to develop perfect rational beings, and in the divine realm to establish a perfect society. The kind of body that shall be, depends in each instance on the quality of the particles that enter into its composition; yet they do not consciously determine the ideal they are to represent. The ideal will grow into manifestation if they are free and receptive to the higher directing. It can neither be altered nor destroyed, but its expression may be retarded by circumstances. Every seed contains the germ of a particular species; and when the formative principle, the Universal vitalizing power, is permitted to act through it, it will unfold along its own peculiar line, and no other. Everywhere men are groping with the intellect after an ideal form for society. Some conceive it to be anarchistic, others socialistic or communistic. But it will not be perceived by the intellect until the Spirit has first given it birth. Crude and imperfect as human society is at present, it is the outcome of natural forces working inwardly and causing it to expand along general lines just as definitely predetermined as those adhered to by any particular species of tree in growing to maturity, flowering and yielding fruit after its own order.
During the past growth and development of society, men nearly always have been quite unaware of the true character or ideal of the body in which they have found themselves placed, often, perforce, as unwilling subjects. The rise and growth of the family and the state were not matters of chance, or even of convenience alone; they were steps in the unfolding of a comprehensive plan, as yet only partially consummated. When men let the divine life of the Oversoul flow freely into and out of their lives, by yielding to its *'«forming, forming influence, they will be drawn into higher social relations as atoms of a body designed by Intelligence far superior to human understanding. "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will."
If we cultivate receptivity to influences from the unseen realm, always keeping our interior windows open in an expectant attitude, the Infinite creative wisdom and power will perfectly adjust all our relations. When we place our finite lives at the disposal of the creative Spirit, and allow them to conform spontaneously to ideals born in the highest realm of consciousness, we can achieve nothing but success, in the truest sense; but if, by entertaining a negative attitude of doubt, selfishness, or unreceptivity, we cut ourselves off from the Universal supply, and cease to be conductors of the Spirit, we become social parasites, encumbering the growth of society. We are then like electric fixtures disconnected from the wire that supplies the illuminating power. To realize our true end in life, we must be, on the one hand, perpetually open to receive inspiration from the Highest, and, on the other, in touch with our fellow beings, to communicate to them the Spirit as we receive it. Thus the circuit is completed, so that the perfect social ideal can grow into manifestation spontaneously. If either end is closed, friction and disorder ensue in our lives, both in their individual and collective capacities.
Forms rise above forms in the scale of nature, from the animalcule, sporting in a drop of water, to world systems moving majestically through illimitable space. The Spirit eternally seeks expression, aiming, through manifold channels and among all orders of life, to unfold ideals. Nor are its manifestations confined to the natural world—that is only its external embodiment, the spiritual idea projected outward in symbols, so that even the dullest vision may catch occasional hints of its meaning. Everywhere we witness growth. Within the human sphere we find growth of institutions, arts, philosophies, civilizations, all tending toward some glorious end not yet realized. We have only to remove personal obstructions, and become receptive to the Spirit of Truth, to be drawn to the places we are fitted to occupy in the new order—"a new heaven and a new earth."
Jesus declared: "Among them that are born of women [i. e. on the human plane] there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist; yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven [i. e. in the divine order of free growth] is greater than he." "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which, indeed, is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof."
Paul wrote: "For even as we have many members in one body, ...so we who are many, are one body."
In the main, schemes of social reform have taken into account, principally or solely, certain exigencies of the present moment, seeking, primarily, to stay the tide of injustice and oppression that threatens to engulf society and exterminate our modern civilization in the same manner that, one after another, the civilizations of antiquity perished. They have aimed to ameliorate conditions and render existence more tolerable, in the hope that, with improved opportunities for material advancement, and the betterment of social relations, men would be induced to turn their attention toward the higher and deeper things of a spiritual life. But this method is exactly the reverse of that taught and practiced by Jesus. No reformer ever encountered external conditions more discouraging for the promulgation of a spiritual doctrine of life.
The Jews, a proud race of noble ancestry, oppressed by tyranny and impoverished by unjust taxation, levied to support a corrupt and degenerate court at Rome, were looking intently for a long-promised leader, who was expected to free them from bondage and establish a regime in which justice and righteousness would be dealt impartially to all. The time was fully ripe for revolt, or, at all events, reform. Jesus came, heralded by John the Baptist as a mighty prophet and reformer. The eyes of the nation were turned to him. But he disappointed the fondest expectations by announcing that his kingdom was "not of this world." To the starving multitudes he offered "the bread of life." To the persecuted and impoverished he said: "Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake." "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Throughout his career he never offered the slightest encouragement to those who sought to render their material circumstances more tolerable through political or social methods. Instead of avoiding the Jewish hierarchy and the Roman officials, as he might easily have done, and as worldly prudence dictated, he openly faced their hostility, and allowed himself to be taken captive and executed; thus, it seemed even to his most devoted followers, unaccountably sacrificing every hope, either of a material or a moral reformation. But such was not to be the final issue. That tragic event, which removed the last vestige of hope and courage from the minds of the disciples, marked the beginning of the most comprehensive, far-reaching reconstruction of human interests in the world's history. "Except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it cannot bring forth fruit." A few years later, the most significant step ever inaugurated toward an improved social order, was taken by the disciples at Jerusalem. It was, indeed, a spontaneous expression of the new life; and had it not been for the invasion of Judaea by the Roman hosts, and the sudden dispersion of the Jews, this vital movement would undoubtedly have spread and assumed a more than local character.
The regeneration of the individual must precede any permanently successful reconstruction of society. It is comparatively futile to attempt to suppress poverty, drunkenness, vice or crime, while their generic root (materialism) remains unchanged. The obnoxious Upas tree of social degradation cannot be exterminated by plucking off its leaves and flowers. The axe must be "laid at the root of the tree." Until that is destroyed, it will continue to send up fresh shoots as quickly as previous growths are removed. Penal and charitable institutions can, at best, only partially counteract the evils that result from the general acceptance of an essentially wrong attitude in life. The respectable, pious materialist shudders at the sensuality and brutality of his less fortunate fellows, little dreaming that his life and theirs alike represent a common tendency. Specific forms of expression are largely dependent on the soil or environment in which they flourish. Refinement and degradation are only outer garbs that conceal the deeper trend of men's lives from the casual observer.
"Cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also."
Zeal for outward reform frequently leads to indiscriminate efforts to suppress abnormal symptoms in the body politic. The impulsive Peter, carried away by excess of enthusiasm, drew his sword and smote off the high priest's servant's ear, thinking thereby to aid his master's cause. But evil cannot be effectually overcome by evil. Darkness is not extinguished by opposing it with more darkness, but by letting in the light.
A worldly-wise materialism makes strenuous exertions to administer formal justice to a few legally-constituted criminals, while at the same time almost utterly ignoring the subtle forces that are at work, on every hand, sowing seeds of crime, disease and misery in thousands of minds. While men are at work repairing one leak in the outer shell of society, the whole structure is being undermined by insidious forces, which are scarcely recognized by the busy throng who live in externalities—in the semblance of things. Attempting to check the ravages of vice and crime by legal enactment or forcible intervention is like trying to "sweep back the ocean with a broom." Evil is hydra-headed; it can only be exterminated by striking at its heart—materialism.
If we keep our faces turned steadfastly toward the light, and follow its guidance, we shall be relieved of all responsibility as to results. It is not for us to query what the issue of our work shall be. We need only follow the leading of the superior Intelligence which thinks, speaks, and acts through us. The finite in man is only the agency through which the Infinite manifests itself. This does not imply that the individual is to lapse into a state of apathy; but, rather, that he is to awaken to a state of increased activity and efficiency, since the wasteful, destructive factor of friction is in a great measure eliminated from his life.
With consciousness of power comes the temptation to use it for selfish ends—a course which must seriously interfere with the expression of the divine ideal. When the organizing impulse is diverted into personal channels, and made to subserve individual interests, it produces forms that represent the ideal in a distorted manner. The ideal form, as well as the impulse through which it finds expression, must come forth into manifestation from within. Man-made organizations are not instrumentalities through which the free Spirit can act unreservedly. When men learn to trust the management of the world of human affairs to a Higher Power, without feeling constrained to interpose their own personally conceived efforts to avert impending disaster,—when they are satisfied to co-operate with the Universal Will, instead of struggling to neutralize and frustrate the higher end of existence by their ill-directed finite aims—then the growth of the divine type of society will be amazingly rapid, and irresistible as the ocean tide.
Jesus did not promulgate a creed, establish an organization, or institute a specific reform; yet within a comparatively brief period, the expansive quality of the type of life which he manifested in a supreme degree, yielded the fruits of reform in more abundant measure than any specific reform which has ever been inaugurated. His life contained the potency, not only of social reform, but of far more than that—of a complete metamorphosis of humanity.
Fixed forms of every description impede, even where they do not absolutely prohibit free growth. Truth suggested by symbols, or illustrated in parables, is unfettered; but when the intellect seeks to dominate the spiritual realm, the law of growth is interfered with, and spontaneity ceases. Creeds, rules, and by-laws—restrictions imposed by the intellect—operate as fetters to any movement which has for its object the advancement of spiritual ends. Water cannot rise above its level; neither can the Spirit manifest itself beyond the limits of fixed forms that men devise in their attempts to confine it.
Jesus spoke with absolute authority, for he acknowledged allegiance to no tradition, dogma, sect, institution, organization, or sphere of existence. His words were the unrestrained voice of the Spirit, whose authority is supreme. His consciousness so far transcended the human plane that he became "one with the Father." He was therefore the Logos, or "Word made flesh." In him, for the first time, the chasm between the finite and the Infinite was spanned, so that the divine ideal of humanity could grow into manifestation with absolute spontaneity. He broke through the insulating medium, the material consciousness, and allowed the Spirit to flow freely into human channels.
No satisfactory compromise can be affected between the old and the new standards of life. We must choose unreservedly either the one or the other. All such words as "policy," "expediency" and "diplomacy" should be eliminated from our vocabulary. It is not strange that men have sought to explain away or evade the central point in the teaching of Jesus. It was the boldest, most radical step in human progress; so radical, in fact, that even now the world does not comprehend its full purport. The supposition that he intended to establish, as a general standard for humanity, a type of life so thoroughly subversive of all previous theories and practices, seems utterly absurd to most persons. They think of his life as a solitary instance, an abstract ideal, not as a concrete example of the normal human life.
At present, every human being begins the brief period known as the "earthly life" heavily handicapped by a legacy of materialistic propensities, acquired prenatally; and, in most instances, this subconscious heritage is supplemented and re-enforced by conventional education of a similar description; so that, arriving at the point where independent thinking and acting are possible, men find themselves bound hand and foot, like the fly in the spider's web, by a network of traditional notions and habitual practices from which they must slowly, and often painfully, extricate themselves.
All eyes are turned toward the twentieth century in hope and expectancy. To those who penetrate beneath the surface of life and feel its deep undercurrents, it seems inevitable that the long promised triumph of the true philosophy of human relations is about to be realized. It is only quite recently that the value of systematic right-thinking has begun to be appreciated; but its power is practically unlimited. Who would dare to prophesy the results that may be achieved, even within two or three generations, by healthy, vital, idealistic thinking! The possibilities of intelligently directed education are boundless. Conscious realization is only limited by finite thought; its confines are wholly arbitrary. As the ideal of a divine, cosmic type of man, and a new order of society, appeals with real emphasis to a growing number of people, the movement will gather increasing impetus. Children born and educated to appreciate the larger aspects of life, will find natural tendencies leading them forward to express them. The marvelous achievements of early Christianity were directly due to the spiritual influence radiated by a single life. "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." What, then, may we not expect when that ideal shall again be manifested in actual life in our midst, as it surely must be at no distant day!