An inborn craving for knowledge forever impels the mind to reach out in all directions for an unknown something with which to satisfy its desires. Attention is at first attracted by the outer world of objects—appearances that appeal to the senses. But after analyzing all that the senses can perceive, and even carrying the process by inductive reasoning and aid of the imagination far beyond the boundaries of actual sense perception, it finds itself no nearer the goal of its search than at the outset. In fact, it finds itself farther than ever from the complete satisfaction of its desire for knowledge; for it begins to realize that there is no ultimate boundary line for the world of physical manifestation. The mind goes on and on, in its efforts to conceive the magnitude and extent of something which has no limits either in space or time, until it sinks in utter amazement and bewilderment, overcome by a sense of the impossibility of ever accomplishing the task it has undertaken. But the result of this very experience has given birth to a new idea—infinity. That word, hitherto vague and meaningless, now comes to stand for a reality.
Investigation, which heretofore has been directed almost exclusively to the outside of life, now turns to the inside as well. To be sure, we continue to study phenomena, but with a new thought of their nature and significance. They seem no longer of primary, but only of secondary importance. Mind is no longer regarded as an adjunct to matter or an emanation from it. Its capacity is no longer that of a revealer of supposed physical reality; but, vice versa, it is seen to be not only superior to the physical which it reveals, but creator of it. In the last analysis we are driven from the phenomenal world and compelled to take refuge in mind, which is then self-revealed. Material and spiritual, physical and metaphysical, are the opposite poles of mental energy. Intelligence requires both. Man is a microcosm of the universe. The individual is a type of the race; and we have only to study his nature deeply enough to find in him all principles and tendencies existent in larger social organisms.
Ever and anon, in the world's history, the mind of man has been seized with an irresistible passion for investigation and exploration. The tendency to consider first the outer, and afterward the inner side of life, is characteristic of the race as well as of the individual. When the mind of civilization awoke out of its slumber during the night of medieval darkness, a new light dawned upon it. As one rising in the morning after a sound sleep, with vigor renewed and faculties alert, it began to reach out and extend the horizon of its knowledge on all sides. A wealth of hitherto hidden treasures of intellectual and practical value opened to its view.
Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Guttenberg, Watt and many other immortal names designate this period as the most notable in the world's history in its bearings upon physical discovery and invention. But such marvelous growth in ideas relating to the outer world must needs have had its counterpart in the unfoldment of spiritual thought. The fulfilment of this necessity was realized in the Idealism whose exponents include Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling and Schopenhauer. Thus we find a balance preserved between physical and metaphysical conceptions.
We may note a repetition, more recently, of substantially the same conditions. The nineteenth century has been characterized by a degree of scientific research unparalleled in history. Enthusiasm for material investigation, which called forth Darwin, Spencer, Tyndall, Huxley, Agassiz and a host of others, is even now having its natural result in an increasing interest in the spiritual aspect of life. A predominance of the materialistic tendency in the philosophical conceptions of the former period, has led to a reaction, already manifested in the growing disposition, everywhere apparent, to consider all questions, both theoretically and practically, from a spiritual standpoint. Never before would a thoroughly systematic and intelligent study of the inner meaning and relations of life have been feasible.
The inductive method has been applied to every department of knowledge relating to the outer world, until sciences have been established, one after another, upon a basis of fact. They are now studied not only individually, but relatively, as interdependent branches—as integrant parts of one complex system, each of which throws some light upon others and gives a larger significance to all. But physical sciences take account of only one side of life—the outer. When they have been pursued to their utmost capacity, elements of experience still remain unaccounted for, which cannot be brought within their scope. We are then obliged to ascend to other planes, and view the world from the standpoint of its psychical and spiritual sides. While man regarded himself as only a material being—the highest species of the animal kingdom—it is not surprising that this thought should have been projected in the form of an anthropomorphic God. While he considered the world a collection of separately created objects, it was inevitable that he should have conceived of a God external to the human soul. But with the growth of spiritual consciousness, he began to look within as well as without.
"I searched for God with heart-throbs of despair,
'Neath ocean's bed, above the vaulted sky;
At last I searched myself, my inmost I,
And found him there."
The negative materialism, skepticism and pessimism of the recent past are already giving place for spiritual activity born of faith and positive assurance. Evidences of a regenerating force are everywhere present in the social organism. The spirit of freedom, which at present characterizes intellectual and moral conceptions, is apparent also in the industrial and economic world. There, too, events are steadily tending toward a climax. The purified intellectual atmosphere, which enables us to attain to a more spiritual consciousness, also affords glimpses of a new social dominated by love instead of selfishness, which will yet emerge from the current strifes and controversies of the material plane. All indications point toward an approaching adjustment of life on a spiritual basis. Earnest efforts along every line are simultaneously converging to this end.
The close of the nineteenth century marks a decided epoch in human progress. All indications point to the speedy advent of an era in which a new, spiritual type of man, and consequently a new society will prevail. Manifold theories and aims, exercised along independent lines, need the unifying power of some great life which shall embody them in practical shape. Such an incarnation alone can bring them into vital relation to the lives of people of all classes.
Every age which has been distinguished by the development of any vitally important idea has appealed to the world through its leader or prophet. Moses, Confucius, Gautama, Jesus and Luther were exponents of mighty tides of human unfoldment. Their insight and spiritual power made them incarnations of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of lives. Behind each of these representative characters were racial tendencies and purposes seeking expression in the profound life of a great soul, and calling for utterance in the comprehensive declarations of a great mind. The "word made flesh" is the culmination of every great revelation.
The prophet of the coming era—the exponent of its highest ideals—will be endowed with insight profound enough to comprehend the practical as well as the theoretical needs of the hour; for it will be his mission to make the ideal things of life practical, and its practical things ideal. Thought and action, word and deed, need to be brought into perfect unity and harmony on the plane of the broadest human attainments of the present day. On every hand spontaneous movements, representing some phase of social, moral or spiritual advancement, are preparing the way, and hastening the consummation of this end. The spirit of expectancy which everywhere pervades society must sooner or later find its fulfilment in a leader who shall unite in one brotherhood all those who seek a solution of life's problems upon the spiritual plane, and look for the revival and permanent establishment of the kingdom of heaven among men.