Conscious life consists of relations. The human economy is like a great tree, the branches and leaves of which—all springing from one root and nourished by the same sap—spread themselves forth that they may feel the glow of the sunlight. Life is a continuous divine communication. While it appears broken into a vast number of disjointed fragments, there is but One Life. It is the material and false sense of life which gives it the aspect of independent units. The true life is a derived, shared, and related consciousness. Without any loss of individual responsibility, each one belongs to the race, which as a whole would be incomplete without him. Life to each seems finited and separated in himself. He thinks of his being as distinct, having its own basis, development, interests, and objects, all within a well-defined boundary.
But life is so interwoven with life—or rather is so truly a part of the One Life—that an individual is like a bit of color in a great mosaic.
The ultimate acme of humanity is universal brotherhood. This -will not be attained by means of any new departure in sociology, perfected legislation, nor ideal political economy, but from a higher consciousness which will fuse and unify heart and character. The current of spiritual life flows from the center outwards, carrying on its bosom rich offerings of loving service and ministry. The cold tide of selfishness, which ebbs from without inward, ends in a deadly vortex, because it has no compensating outflow.
Individual man does not think for himself. He is taken up and borne along by great thought currents in which he is submerged. While he has a feeling of independence, he is as conditioned as a piece of drift-wood in the rapids of a mighty river. The great sweep of events and developments brings to the surface its successive exponents, but these seeming rulers of the movement are but its incidental expressions. Every great wave of human thought, whether social, political, or religious, bears upon its crest a few leaders upon whom the movement seems to depend; but in reality they are swept along in the prevailing current. In the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries the temper of Europe was ripe for the Crusades; otherwise the instigators of those great incursions never could have inspired the vast waves of humanity, which, under the banner of the cross, surged eastward for the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher. Luther was but the instrumental articulation of the spirit of the ripening evolution of religious liberty of the Renaissance. In the fifteenth century Europe began to feel—even though unconsciously—the presence of a great western continent, and this blind apprehension became incarnate in Columbus. All great distinctive mental currents find special embodiment; therefore, personal leadership is the outcome rather than the inspiration of great transitions. The general character of great mental currents may be tempered and modified by commanding spirits if their main trend be respected; but oftener apparent leadership is an adroit utilization of existing cumulative forces. The world was just at that stage of religious progress that was fitted for Calvin when he appeared; and when its thought had advanced from stern "decrees" towards "free grace" Wesley came upon the stage and gave it formal expression. It would be as easy to transplant the customs, manners, and modes of communication of Calvin's time into the present era as to find a fit place for his theological thought; and yet there are those who would patch up that musty doctrinal fabric for present use.
The great ocean of human mind rises and falls, ebbs and flows, in huge waves and not in detached drops. Men are unconsciously bound together by a thousand ties, real though intangible. The thunder of the rhythmic march of the mass drowns the light footfalls of those who mark an independent time.
Should we, then, be discouraged in our efforts for individual advancement? Does the deafening diapason of the multitude render all finer melody impracticable? No; for in a sense every man is the race. While in the lower realm of mind, personalities are mainly expressive, in the higher, individual attainment is race potentiality. The very foremost member in his progress towards the divine human ideal, represents a veritable race achievement.
Our ideas of human brotherhood are often limited to the present generation; but it includes all who have gone before, and all who will come after. Without affirming the doctrine of metempsychosis, or re-incarnation, there is a sense in which we have lived before the present life. Forms of life come and go; but life in its essence, being in and of God, is without beginning or ending. We shall be spiritually intertwined and incarnated in those yet to come. The race, past, present, and future, is one organism. For it, as well as ourselves, we are thinking, willing, acting, and loving. The Scriptures teach that the fathers still live in the children, and that their transgressions, and still more their attainments, are shared by them, and science confirms the statement. Rightly understood, the seeming hard law of "the survival of the fittest" is found to be beneficent, for the fittest are channels of blessing to those who are less fit. As clear life-giving streams flow down the mountain sides, and refresh and make fertile the meadows below, so lofty human attainment, towering above the low plane of sensuality and materialism, helps to lift up and spiritualize the whole race-life. Service reaches down to the things below. It is difficult to help those who are upon our own plane from lack of vantage ground.
The working field for the promotion of the evolution of the spiritual life is as broad as humanity, and reaches all generations. Jesus, who expressed the essential Christ, said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth” (that which is material and selfish) "will draw all men unto me."
Human personality has been so deeply engaged in working out its own salvation, that it has overlooked its organic relations. Dogmatic theology has iterated and reiterated the injunction, "Save your own soul;" but the most ideal salvation is the forgetfulness of the "own soul" in devotion to the general soul. The very essence of salvation is the death of selfishness. Humanity is bound in one bundle, therefore its kinships and relations are of primary interest. In a sense we incarnate ourselves in those around us. Aristotle denned a friend as "one soul in two bodies."
The spiritual victories gained on this arena of life, and renewed, generation by generation, are grand in their scope and significance. We wrestle with principalities and powers, and that in the presence of a cloud of interested witnesses. The sorrows and trials of one are those of all, and the triumphs of each are a general inspiration. If the soul-currents do not flow from within outwards they become stagnant. Dogmatic theology which conceives of salvation as a "plan," has largely lost the consciousness of that "bond of the spirit" which held the primitive church in a loving fellowship. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus taught that character and ministry, and not creed, formed the basis for the heavenly condition. No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. The ever-widening circles of a personal consciousness of the presence of the divine image within, go out like waves to refresh the whole human family of God.
Selfish attempts at soul-saving through the efficacy of ordinances, rituals, and sacraments, rather than through intrinsic character, have narrowed and chilled the influence of the Church, and rendered it artificial and unattractive. Man's spiritual ideal is to be a channel through which the divine life and love may flow out to his fellows. "Sons of God” are those who are crucified in the lower self, and from the high altitude of their resurrection are able to draw men unto them.
That evolutionary step called death does not interrupt nor set aside the great vital current of race-progress and unity. Being members one of another, the ties of common interest and destiny stretch out both backwards and forwards. Life is one, and so-called death is but an incident. The spiritual world is as truly here as in a future condition. The vital test is not time nor location, but moral quality. Has the spiritual man—"the mind of Christ"—gained the ascendency? Paul in speaking of his tribulations affirms that he was being "baptized for the dead." We suffer from limitations and burdens which past generations, through the channel of ancestral life, have imposed upon us. In like manner the present generation is engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict, not merely for itself, but for a coming brotherhood, even down to the distant eons of the future. The keen spiritual perception of Paul enabled him to see the great environing "cloud of witnesses" which view with absorbing interest every step of our advance. Could our dull vision be clarified so that we might catch a glimpse of that great host, what an inspiration it would lend!
Christ conquered everything which is adverse to the race, and his victory was its triumph. He uncovered the "image of God” which had been buried by traditional rubbish and sensuous materialism. The conquest of the Head is the conquest of every member. Every brother in whom the Christly nature becomes incarnated gives an upward impulse along all the innumerable lines which radiate from him as a center. He is a savior who breaks the captive's chains, takes off the shackles, opens prison doors, and proclaims freedom. The great human campaign will not be ended until every member of the race has been translated into a "son of God."
He is already that except in manifestation. The unmanifested who have passed on before have a vicarious interest in us and in our achievements. Each needs a "God-speed" and a drawing upwards.
While man stands at the apex of the great pyramid of sentient life, he is yet in bondage to his lower nature. His goal is a deliverance into perfect spiritual liberty.
It is supposed that heredity brings evil as well as good; but evil being negative, and having no God-like basis in the real, loses its vitality by the "third or fourth generation," while good goes on even to the thousandth.
The healing streams of altruism run out until they lose themselves in the ocean of eternal love. Race solidarity makes it a privilege for the strong to carry the burdens of the weak until they are finally rolled off. Therefore brotherly limitations will be overcome by brotherly aid. Man cannot live to himself, because he is crystallized into a great organic unity.
In other men, sleeping but never dead,
Will rise in majesty to meet thine own."
—James Russell Lowell
Missionary effort among the heathen will largely be barren so long as they are taught that there is an inseparable wall between them and their ancestral dead. Their views of the solidarity of interest between themselves and other generations, in many cases, are in advance of so-called Christian nations. A reasonable and practical spiritual religion, which would recognize the loving fellowship which binds them to their kindred who have gone before, would powerfully appeal to the "divine image” which is latent in every darkened heathen soul. God's ultimate economy in humanity is to bring it together, and its lines of reconciliation converge in Him. The comprehensive love which unifies divinity and humanity is the great law which includes all other laws.
How to reconcile the frictions of society is a problem which is attracting the attention of the civilized world. In the past there has been a wider variation in the material conditions of the human family than to-day, but never before has there appeared such a general restlessness. There is a universal reaching out for improvement. Blind and mistaken efforts to bring it about consist partially in organized antagonisms. Classes, trades, and sections solidify, in order to oppose other classes, trades, and sections, and believe that they are conserving their best interests. It is forgotten that society is an organism, and that all its members cannot perform the same kind of service. The perfect human body is a unit; but the office of each member is unlike that of every other, and therein is completeness. "When one member suffers all suffer."
Socialism is a term which is used with a great variety of meaning. To some it signifies—at least as an ultimate accomplishment—a forcible division of all material wealth by law and coercion. To others it mainly comprises an increased assumption of productive agencies, business operations, and wealth distribution by the State, including a steady enlargement of governmental functions in the future. But true socialism must begin from within, and have its basis in unselfish character. The spirit of love and altruism must be cultivated and awakened until it becomes prevailing, and as rapidly as this takes place its legitimate fruits will be outwardly manifest. Any socialism which contains elements of jealousy, avarice, or coercion is a counterfeit. Any forcible interference with the natural laws of wealth distribution would discourage thrift and industry, conduce to idleness, and stimulate avarice and anarchy. If through any ostensible legalized process men can get what they do not earn, production will be diminished and decay ensue. Many well-meaning philanthropists confine their attention almost entirely to material conditions, while the royal road to improvement is only through better moral conditions. That sin, intemperance, and improvidence bring forth their inevitable fruit of poverty, misery, and suffering, is not the fault of our social system. Causation lies deeper. The most helpful help which can be given is to teach men, through character re-enforcement, how to help themselves. It is not a division of "silver and gold” that is needed; for even if that were practicable it would at once diminish production, raise the price of all necessities, and chill industry and progress. The ills of society are directly attributable to the lack of unselfishness, love, and character education. The time is not distant when these will be regarded as of far greater value than material wealth. As a basis for happiness, money is the most disappointing thing in the world. Let a truer estimate prevail. Great wealth pursued as an end is a curse to any member of the human family. There is no such soul-dwarfing, hell-inciting, suicidal occupation on earth as the selfish piling-up of surplus wealth as the object of life. The possessor of millions who goes on adding to his store, as a gratification of his insane ambition to accumulate, and lives without a conscientious regard for his obligation to his fellow-men, is surely kindling within himself that torment which Dives experienced, because he is defying the supreme law of his nature. Beneath all the golden glamour, such an one, in the truest sense, is blind and naked and sick and in prison. It is not the fact of the millions, for money is useful, but that their selfish possession will eventuate in a self-made hell in the human soul. Heaven and hell are not places, but conditions of character. They are legitimate harvests that come from diverse kinds of seed-sowing. Better a free soul as a digger of ditches, than one which is enslaved by its wealth. Such an one is like a bee submerged in its own honey. Bion once said of a niggardly rich man, "That man does not own his estate, but his estate owns him."
The millennium will consist of the reign of love and unselfishness. Improved economic theory and legislation are powerless to bring it into manifestation. Education in the ordinary sense is also utterly unable to bring about moral reform. Only as human consciousness is lifted into the spiritual zone and the "image of God” uncovered, will that harmony and wholeness be realized which is able to transform the earth into a paradise.
The manifestation of the intrinsic brotherhood is hindered and chilled by the conventionalities of our modern civilization. The deep fountains of human love and sympathy are sealed, and artificial barriers are built up between souls. A code of formal precedents, rules, and maxims becomes the unwritten, though inviolable law of society, which is based upon selfishness and worldly policy. Each soul wears a polished armor, which, though invisible, is as cold and impenetrable as steel, and nothing less than the manifested law of love in a general glow can ever melt it away. Man mistakenly considers himself a unit, and still inquires if he is his "brother's keeper." He has not yet drained the cup of self-sacrifice and discovered the sweetness which is hid at the bottom. Such an accomplished ideal would bring heaven into earth-life and emancipate humanity from the slavish ties of the lower self.
The law of ministry is not merely moral, but it is scientific. It constitutes the broad highway to racial and ideal harmony. The observance of fundamental law is a privilege rather than a duty, for it carries rich reward. "He that loveth his life loseth it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." Opportunity for service is a boon conferred. In the human economy it seems almost necessary that some cups should be empty, in order that there may be room for the overflow of others, so that both can enjoy their sweetness. If all were filled just to the brim, where could any room be found for the exercise of the privilege of bestowment?
The divine life consists of infinite ministration. Jesus expressed its dominion in the loving service of "washing the disciples' feet." Here the whole policy of the world is reversed. Only love can interpret love. "Except as ye become as little children," judged by conventional standards, seems like weakness and foolishness. Forms and traditions which have encased us with their worldly wisdom must be torn away before the tendrils of our being can be free to cling in graceful embrace to neighboring souls. The higher life is not a refinement. It is the awakening of a new consciousness—the glow of the divine image within.
The new brotherhood rises above the altitude of ethical rules and obligations. There is no search for the boundary-line between justice and injustice, for balanced obligations are left behind. The very conditions of inequality furnish vantage-ground for both a divine and human overflowing, which will continue until disconnected and stagnant pools are unified and swallowed up in a common sea of living interest and destiny. The two grand divisions of right and wrong will be superseded by those of the loving and the unloving, until at length the hardness of the latter will be melted away. The mighty law of love will finally submerge all its inferiors.
The racial soul is the grand unit, and all share its experiences and live its life. However dissimilar the initiates, each travels the grand highway, and passes through the same cycles of spiritual unfoldment. The great racial consciousness is being solidified by the cement of love. Seeming inequalities find their interpretation in the fact that the vicarious principle runs through the warp and woof of the whole human fabric. The innocent suffer in the penalties of the guilty, and the sinful share in the warm glow which is kindled by the loving.
But the perfect unity of racial mind exists only in the higher or the spiritual realm. Above the great equatorial line which separates it from that which is sensuous, peace and oneness are perfected. In the lower hemisphere is found the temporary, the seeming, the material, the delusive. It is the abode of shadows. The human ego abides with them until, through the discipline of penalty and "growing pains," it emerges into the higher realm of the One Mind. Here the grind and the friction of the baser zone are unknown. Here in the sunshine of the Kingdom of the Real, the upper branches of the great human tree blossom and produce their fruit. Here men are one because they are united in God. Humanity ultimates in the universal soul. Here is the final welding of eternal Fatherhood, sonship, and brotherhood. Every heartthrob of the Divine Father sends the vital current of love and unity coursing through the veins of the remotest member.
Mankind is of one coinage, for all bear the divine image. This makes the lowest semblance of humanity lovely. Though yet unmanifested, he is a son of God. We are instructed to love our neighbor. as ourselves, but the Christly standard is still higher. "Love your enemies." But there are no "enemies," for they have been transformed. As our eyes are opened the divine image shines through all human wrappings.