The Bible is a great word-picture in mosaic designs of the Ideal. Its infinite variety of character, history, experience, precept, judgment, and life, under many conditions, have one meaning and converge to unity. From the beginning of the Old Testament to the ending of the New, there is a constant grading upward — terrace above terrace — toward the Absolute. Every inspired writer strives to climb the slope from the lowland actual of his own time and environment, toward the Ideal, and to mark out the path for his generation. His own soul is filled with a radiance which he fain would communicate.
It is a common impression that that which is called ideal, defines not only the unknown but the unreal. But the higher trend of modern thought would identify it as the ultimate real. Perhaps no term has been more abused. It is often employed, not only as the antithesis of reality, but as signifying what is illusive and even purely visionary. "A barren ideality" is often said of something to express contempt. Eminent makers of fiction, interpreters of ethics, and even of religion, often pride themselves upon their realism. Its thinly concealed definition is materialism rather than that which is truly real. There is a higher thought called idealistic realism. But many will not yet admit that the Ideal is the highest and most deeply real. The abode of conventional realism is within the realm of the physical senses. But validity more correctly belongs to the unseen. Saint Paul affirms that the things which are seen are temporal, while the things which are not seen are eternal. The Ideal is a vision of the Infinite. "The pure in heart shall see God." This is no mere platitude or poetic sentiment, but scientific and psychological truth. We may increasingly feel our superiority over matter, or rather a sense of rule over external conditions. Our ideal is a keen tool, and by its skillful wielding we may carve the surface of outward conditions into high or low relief.
The kingdom is within you, is the recognition and affirmation of the Ideal, by the greatest of idealists. The divine image is there enshrined, but men have but a feeble consciousness of that supreme fact. It follows that the new education needs to be that of the consciousness as well as the intellect. The Prophet of Nazareth put aside the prevailing forms of worldly wisdom and his teaching was entirely that of inner ideals. His method has puzzled the reformers of all ages. He recognized the inherent power of subjective creations and always began at the center. He realized the futility of superficial effort and always dealt with the realm of causes, the noumenal rather than the phenomenal.
When human thought and consciousness are lifted higher, outward corresponding expression follows. There are many ideals, but only one Ideal. It is that toward which we are always approaching but never fully reach, the indefinable Ultimate. It is as if everything in the whole cosmos — man included — were not fitted into its normal place, had not yet fulfilled its mission, but were in earnest search for adjustment. The ideal is the universal drawing power. Evolution with its pressure and friction may push from behind, but it lacks gentle persuasiveness.
Our yearnings, our visions, our unsatisfied attempts to peer down the vista of the future all come from our insatiable quest for the perfect. We often speak of an ideal object, as a picture, statue, or person, in the sense of defining superior merit, but such idealism is only relative. Nothing is ever fully realized. The final completeness recedes and keeps in advance because its mission is to draw and therefore its power is formative. He who holds it is its subject and is being conformed to its own image or likeness. This comes not from any sudden influx but like the rings of growth in a tree. Psychologically considered, the simple contemplation of ideals is helpful.
The whole purpose and trend of the Bible is to hold up the ideals of the spiritual life. It is not to draw attention to itself, but it comes to lift what is in us. It is a service book. It includes material of every kind, negative as well as positive. As the sculptor strives to release the beautiful statue from the block of crude marble within which it is imprisoned, and as the creator of fiction gradually evolves the hero or heroine from unpromising material, so the subjective artist essays to bring his objective activity into more complete conformity to the inner model. Everyone has a potential angel within, the release and development of which is a matter of interminable pains and perseverance. The persistence of the divine life in man is accompanied by an unending series of lower deaths. Former ideals are cast aside like broken pottery, their life and utility being ended.
The divine in man is the same in essence as God, but his consciousness of the fact is but infantile. It is best so. Man is made for eternal growth. If in due season one ideal were not replaced by a larger one, it would mean stagnation, even for an archangel. The poet often sings of eternal rest, but passive idleness is not human. Absolute contentment is abnormal. A certain "divine dissatisfaction" insures perpetual growth. The light which has been kindled in the soul is never to be extinguished.
The Ideal is that intangible truth and reality for which man hungers and thirsts. He fails to interpret his own restlessness. He is delving among lower models while he encloses the higher. Disappointment will continue until the loftier is sought out and awakened. Order is not found in things but must be set up in one's own soul.
Human life on the present plane consciously begins with simple physical sensation. The individual is a bundle of unending possibilities, attainable only by an ever-increasing proportion of the spiritual, as compared with the sense consciousness. From the early base of material sensation, the soul is ever making experimental and educational excursions, higher, and yet higher. But that is only the training of what has been implicit from the beginning. To go upward is to go within. The soul which is bruised and depressed by rough contact with the world may retire within itself to the divine center and commune with the indwelling God. There, and there alone, it can sit face to face with the Ideal and have a vision of perfect love and spiritual freedom. "Men may rise upon the stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things." One finds satisfaction only as by aspiration he surpasses himself.
The soul has true creative power. It is always making itself over, and virtually makes its own objective world. The same material environment, to different observers, may be bright or dark, in fact, living or paralyzed. The difference is due to varying inner reflection or re-formation. Aspiration may become a cultivated habit. In the corridors of the soul the ego can set up statues or hang pictures of its own designing. There they seem to breathe and live. The potential artistic power has no limit. The technique of the professional designer may wane, but the skill of the unseen genius increases.
The Bible, under a spiritual interpretation, points toward the Ideal. Scholastic dogmatism renders the book dry and unattractive. The realism of the letter hides its inner light. In order that the fine gold of its ideals may be assimilated and transmuted into living spiritual manifestation, they are presented in a great variety of combinations and conditions, shown at all angles and in different lights, and tested in their adaptation to unlike ages, races, nations, and forms of government. Through them the divine principle flows into the lives of rich and poor, learned and ignorant, high and low, and its quality is exhibited in all stages of progress, from the tender shoot to full maturity. Its molding power touches life on every side. Emerson wisely says that, "A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world."
Who can fully define the Ideal? Shall its absolute and relative elements be love, goodness, truth, and beauty? All. The divine perfection is wholly inclusive, a rounded sphere. While the Ideal abstractly is perfection, the human aspect must ever remain relative. Though the Abstract is unknowable and unattainable, its influence upon life is all important. The dominant element in the ultimate Pattern is love — love universal. But this encloses a noble group of subordinates. Love includes and energizes beauty, truth, and goodness. Beauty is more than shapely form and symmetrical proportion. It is the spirit of harmony in expression. It grasps inharmony, recreates and idealizes it, possesses it with order and fills it with soul. Again we are brought back to the subjective. Beauty is a reflection of what is in the beholder, hence it is primarily a soul quality. Even art cannot be objective for all outward beauty is only a work of art. Different observers may clothe the same graceful statue with purity or voluptuousness.
Truth is the ideal of conformity to law, the normal type. When the soul has realized the truth of nature and art, it is their conqueror. The love of right, justice or sincerity is both instinctive and an inspiration. "Man was made to look upward," says that delightful modern mystic, Maeterlinck:
"We all live in the sublime. Where else can we live? That is the only place of life. And if aught be lacking, it is not the chance of living in heaven, rather is it watchfulness and meditation ; also, perhaps, a little ecstasy of the soul. Though you have but a little room, do you fancy that God is not there too, and that it is impossible to live there, in a life that shall be somewhat lofty? If you complain of being alone, of the absence of events, of loving no one and being unloved, do you think that the words are true? . . . All that happens to us is divinely great, and we are always in the center of a great world."
The Ideal which dwells in the soul is the thought of oneness with divinity, a native attraction of a man towards his Source, a coherent aspiration Godward. The ultimate and highest Good is an eternal magnet — that totality of all moral and spiritual completeness which defines the Eternal Spirit.
The ideal of the divine in human form we call the Incarnation. It is the conjunction of the two which become one, made materially manifest. The one supreme fact thus named gains its significance because it testifies of a universal law. It is not abnormal or super-normal, but a natural development. The ideal of the rose is to blossom, and incarnation is the fulfillment of destiny. Every law, by correspondence, has application up and down, as well as upon its own plane. There is a spiritual, as well as material gravitation, and the tides of high life are as well defined as those of the great deep. The life of nature as well as inspiration in man, moves towards an ideal.
"In buds upon some Aaron's rod
The childlike ancient saw his God;
Less credulous, more believing, we
Read in the grass — Divinity.
"From Horeb's bush the Presence spoke
To earlier faiths and simpler folk;
But now each bush that sweeps our fence
Flames with the Awful Immanence"
("God's Image in Man")
What a costly mistake has been the substantial isolation of Jesus! Such was not his purpose. The Christ consciousness has often been introduced as a formal stranger. Man has been authoritatively proclaimed as incapable and depraved. Thus the mirror-like normal Model which he has held before himself, has been marred.
Truth, in fact, is inoperative until it is vivified into an ideal. Then it lives. It matters little, as a fact, or event, whether or not William Tell ever existed. But the heroic virtue and patriotism enclosed in the story has ever been a molding force in Swiss character and in a general love of liberty. The ideal outweighs a thousand events. History is meaningless unless it lives. "Let the dead bury their dead." There is much evidence that the thought of a Western Continent loomed strongly in the European consciousness before Columbus actualized the fact. The ideal preceded and projected the event. Do not hide the ideal behind dry and superficial happenings but burnish it and bear it aloft. Let everyone mark deeply his specification, and conformity to the drawing will increase. A corresponding law lives and moves upon the physical plane of expression.
The relative value between circumstance and law is especially marked in the biblical literature. A bare historic episode may be one of many expressions of truth, but, of itself, it is too narrow to sustain the full superstructure. A vital principle must also root in the living present. The spiritual marrow of the Bible is mostly contained in poetic and idealistic form rather than in letter and history. It may be that "facts are stubborn things," but often they are dead and dry barriers — precedents in the path of progress. How the flowing imagery of many of the psalms uplifts and inspires! Modern indifference to the Bible is largely the result of an undue emphasis which has been placed upon occurrences whether true or uncertain. Inspired truth inspires. There is a strange inclination to burrow near the surface rather than delve for ultimates. The unsatisfactory nature of conventions and ready-made ruts is evident, for spiritual verity is original and spontaneous in the soul. "The truth shall make you free."
Ideals project themselves across the vista of the future. The soul must look forward. While the lessons of the past may be profitable for reproof and educational discipline, they are but auxiliary. History is full of tethering-posts to which truth has been tied and obstructed. The low-vaulted past is not inspirational, though it furnishes the kindling which, when ignited, lights up the forward highway. What we have suffered and survived is consumed in the furnace of life in order that its energy may be transmuted into spiritual newness and vigor. Let us smile upon the coming time and it will respond with a greeting to us. If the body gives signs of infirmity let us not forget that we are not bodies, but unfolding souls. The youthful and optimistic temper will not permit mental rigidity, spiritual lethargy, or a religion of exclusion.
Never before in the world's history was there so clear an understanding of human inspiration. With research penetrating unwonted fields, with knowledge marvelously expansive, with philanthropy more scientific and practical, and with hopefulness systematically cultivated, we hail the new time with joyful anticipation. We may pitch a tent for a night in the field of retrospection but do not let us make it a residence. Learning as we do through contrast, the very mistakes of former years should lend a new impetus to our advance. The man of today is great in proportion to the obstacles which he has overcome. Jacob, with a strained thigh, wrestled all night with the adversary and became a new man and was given a new name. He who has little faith in himself is likely to have but a feeble faith in God. The divine indwelling is the supreme and only remedy for the ills of life. Paul was a true idealist: "Rejoice alway. In everything give thanks." Such a spirit transforms tribulation, sweeps away pessimism and makes the world over. The "new heaven and new earth" are ideals capable of realization. As "Alps on Alps arise," so summit after summit of spiritual attainment lifts its head before us, and each furnishes a vantage ground for a victory over the next.
To be, forms the basis of to do. While the seer, to our minds, is mainly associated with the ancient time, he is more than ever needed today. Said Archimedes of ancient Syracuse: "Give me a fulcrum on which to rest and I will move the earth." But Emerson, the modern idealist, found a fulcrum to move a greater world than that of matter.
The Bible, as a great living unity in variety, seeks to enthrone the Ideal in man. In one of our former books' a brief enumeration of some of the idealistic elements of the sacred Scriptures was made for which liberty is taken in their quotation.
"The Inspired Book touches every life in its full breadth and at every point. That supreme spiritual aspiration and God-consciousness that illumined men of old will inspire men of today. Those great divine sources and springs have not lost their power to kindle new life. The history of the Jewish nation is a grand drama, the ever-shifting scenes of which portray vice and virtue worked out in character and life, each to its legitimate result. With natural, free interpretation of the Book, its light will grow clearer and broader, and it will be an ever-unfolding source of inspiration to human life."
The Bible is instinct with the idealism of the ancient time. Each successive generation catches its living glow anew. Its truth is old, yet ever new. Its inner significance expands under new conditions and combinations. Changing applications and adjustments take place, but its beams of light will continue to shine on generations yet unborn.
Those things which have served their purpose make the soil for new planting. As the mists of early morn dissolve and disappear when the sun arises, so the modern atmosphere wipes out dogmatism and scholastic self-sufficiency. There is a subtle integration and disintegration active at the same time. The traditionalist feels that the very foundation stones are crumbling, while those which are to replace them are not yet evident to him. But be courageous, for while the old is slipping away, there is growing in human consciousness a greater faith, a grander religion, and a mystic revelation of the Ideal. He who has been content with the theory of an occasional interposition of the infinite hand of a far-away Deity, may awaken and find himself in a beautiful and orderly universe, with the sense of the Immanent One within himself. Reverently speaking, God is brought home. What a discovery and inspiration in such a transition! As Mont Blanc towers up above the horizon to the approaching traveler grand and indescribable, so the Ideal lifts its symmetrical and awe-inspiring proportions to thrill his being. It is not isolated, but all-inclusive. The explorer finds himself in a social universe where everybody and everything is his relative. Instead of separation there comes a new sense of unity and universal friendliness. He finds even that every throb of pain, every heavy cross, every frown of fate, and every pathetic event, has some educational and beneficent fruit. It fits into a larger and even a universal plan. Even so-called death is but a new birth into higher life and larger opportunity. Out of the cruder expression grows one more sublimated, refined, and glorious. But the Ideal makes its presence felt only to him who opens his eyes.
Idealism is scientific in a true sense. Truth is an all-inclusive unit, and science, or exact truth, cannot be fenced off and limited to the material realm. There can be no higher proof of any principle than that it fits the constitution of man. He is the universal unit of measure. If a proposition is adjusted to the soul and satisfies every craving, it cannot be false. Even the nature of divinity is to be gauged by humanity. There is a rapid trend in science from materialism toward spiritual refinement. As accurate research digs deeper, evidences of design and unity are multiplied. The analytical by-paths in all directions finally converge toward a grand synthesis. Every discovery and development lends additional proof to the proposition that what should be, is. By such an assumption, Laplace worked out the elimination of what had been regarded as the uncertainties and irregularities of the solar system. The hypothesis of what is ideal prepares and points out the way to the scientific actual. Science may be defined as demonstration. It is the ideal coming into appearance. In the mind it is the instinctive recognition of truth. Not merely one Word, but every word is made flesh. Real construction is from mind stuff rather than material protoplasm. The truth we have with us, but the greater truth is always a little in advance. If the shepherds of Chaldea saw a near-by star which told a story, how much greater the wonder which confronts the modern astronomer in the nightly starry host his camera registers and which he catalogues.
There are ideals for the race, nation, and world, as well as for the individual. They have transforming and molding power. Note one or two specimens of the many in the Bible. "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Micah iv, 3) "And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah xi, 6-9) "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians iv, 8) Such ideals cannot be too often repeated. Psychologically, they are kept bright and prominent by reiteration. The Pattern, when steadily held aloft, glows before the mind like a beacon light. If one fully occupy himself with the good, evil at length becomes a negation. As positive reality lights up the soul, the negative shadows dissolve to their native nothingness.
The goal for the individual soul is the higher or spiritual consciousness. The term "cosmic consciousness" is one which some have recently employed to represent the supreme Ideal, and it is very suggestive. It signifies the recognition not merely of a material order but of a spiritual totality. The fragmentary things of life and of the universe are rejoined and repaired, the fogs and shadows dissolve, and the rough places are made smooth. It is an intelligently cultivated feeling — nay, vision — not merely of nature and mass, but of a cosmos of Mind, Spirit, and Love. It involves soul responsiveness to the largest and highest environment. Divinity is our own. Through oneness and receptivity, we let it print itself upon us.