"And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward."
It is against the deepest law of our nature that we ever should be at rest. There never has been, nor ever will be a time in the history of the race when the onward impulse of life will finally relapse into quiescence. Man is made to march on. Truth is marching on, and in a deep sense, God is marching on. We arrive at some place where "every prospect pleases" and think we will rest, but hardly pitch our tent before we get the order to strike camp and go forward.
But not all that seems new is a part of real progress. There is a well-made highway upon which we may safely advance, but many "reformers" wish to take some short cut and essay to cheat evolution through a panacea of their own devising. One would introduce, on demand, a new social order or inaugurate through legislative contrivance some economic revolution. Only do this, or that, and then sit down and rest. The world teems with those experimenters who believe that man can be made over from the outside. Some who count themselves fervent in Christian faith often reverse the processes which Jesus practiced, and arbitrarily set up an artificial standard or dogma in his name. They inquire, "exactly what would he do in this or that material position in modern life?" and then proceed to make a very positive answer. Like some of his zealous followers of old, they would take him by force and proclaim him king. When that spirit prevailed, he withdrew, usually to some desert place for retirement.
While it is of profound importance to apply the Christ spirit in daily life, it savors of cant to affirm with certainty just what Jesus would do in this position or that. His real power resides in the wonderful simplicity of his life. The necessity for outward reforms, and the overthrow of collective evils in entrenched positions was never greater than in his day. But in recognition of the principle that they are results rather than causes, he made no direct attack upon them. It was his to "lay the axe at the root of the tree," to get back of superficial expressions and delve in the deeper realm of the hidden source. He dealt not directly with politics, Roman rule, or imperfect institutions, but only with the springs of action. Conduct is but the articulation of thought and character and can be sweetened and purified only at the fountain head. To build a dam in the bed of a flowing stream a little higher in order to stop its flow is futile. It soon runs over with the same vigor as before. To many reformers who engage themselves upon the surface of life, the work of Jesus, were it repeated today, would seem to have little practicality. True progress is not superficial and confined to the betterment of man upon the material plane, but is rather new inward life. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation."
The human soul is making greater forward progress than ever before because it is profoundly convinced that God is working through it instead of altogether outside. The thought which we are leaving behind is that God approached man, while the new consciousness is God at the center. "Behold I make all things new." The Psalms are the poetic and inspirational expression of religious feeling at the time of David. But to the man of today, the truth which is enshrined in psalmody should mean a great deal more. With our modern appreciation of God in the cosmos, and his fuller revelation in the soul, and in events, every sublime recognition should be broader and deeper.
We need not attack the more restricted faiths of the past. They have served their purpose and fitted their own time and generation. They simply recede as we press forward and behold a vaster horizon and more perfect harmony. Let us think of the universal trend as onward, and forever onward. It may aid our concept to image the movement in terms of space. Life is not merely continued existence but a constant renewing and creating. There is the opening of new senses and a clearer and farther view through new vistas. We move forward, as does also the ground upon which we stand. While the soul is unfolding, everything outside is engaged in the same process. If youth in years cannot return, let us cling to its spirit, affirm its cheer, and take optimism for our guest. It is the puny and temporary detail of life that holds us down and back. We must gather new and grander thoughts and clothe ourselves with them as with a garment.
The supreme fact of living is change. Fixedness, and even consistency, in the usual sense, stifles the soul. The Spirit is ever making new revelations and suggestions to the individual who is receptive. "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." Fidelity to present truth and the vision of today, lays the foundation for the larger outlook of to-morrow. Our starting-point is the place where our predecessors left off. We plant our feet upon the terrace built by their utmost reach. If our new earth be larger than our old, the new heaven must correspondingly expand.
The true index of any stage of growth is its ideal of God. Says Dr. McConnell in his very valuable book, "Christ," regarding past concepts of God:
"He issued ukases; he promulgated laws; he directed events, and summoned offenders to be dealt with as rebels; he was above all responsibility; he was, in a word, the quintessence of Absolutism throned at the center of the universe. . . . This conception of God satisfied. It fitted and was correlated with the actual life and thought of the people who 'bowed the knee' before him. Their political life was its reflection; their social life was organized from the bottom up on the monarchical principle. At its summit was the King, and above him was the King of Kings. It is more than merely interesting to note the extent to which the language of religion is to this day colored by the imagery of political absolutism."
The great forward trend, to many, looks like an uncertain drifting, a recession from old and well-established landmarks. Has truth solid outlines, and if so how can we distinguish them from the dissolving objects which are moving about us? "Watchman, what of the night?" Do the flashes of light and shade presage a new and brighter day? Yes! The great drift is taking us toward the morning. A grand highway is being cast up and levelled. In the midst of all the seeming chaos, not a verity is destroyed and not a vital principle is fading. It is only the morbid growths which are sloughing off. The Bible itself is not being lost but saved. Saved to reason, to true philosophy, and pure spiritual science! Saved to knowledge, logic, and the higher interpretation! Lost to ignorance, superstition, and bigotry! Perchance the warped vision of the atheist or materialist may make it seem to him that the great drift is toward his own position. This is because he has taken the scaffoldings of religion to be the temple itself. As these are stripped away the Building stands out in its own wonderful beauty and symmetry.
Like a great river which runs into the sea, the outflow of life is toward God. He has entered the soul and by progressive steps is working out the ideal of divine and human oneness. Men are joining hands to help each other over slippery places to a firmer footing. They are saving their lives by losing them.
Only the false, the unreal, and the unlovely are drifting backward, while truth, love, and goodness rise up in front like grand mountain peaks on the horizon which we are gradually nearing. The existing commotion is a symptom of advance. The virtue of that which we are leaving behind is based largely upon repression from without. The spiritual energy and light of the new era are to be radiant from the center, and light up the pathway which will shine more and more "unto the perfect day."