When refined from its former materialism, the evolutionary philosophy exhales the spirit or an optimism that cannot be limited. What a great and rapid advance within the forty years or more since Darwin and Wallace formulated their theories of "The Struggle for Life," and "The Survival of the Fittest," to the present accepted altruistic basis, even from the standpoint of a science that is yet materialistic! When first imperfectly recognized, the law of progress appeared selfish, if not even cruel. The great procession of advancing material forms was found to be moving in accord with fixed laws, but the fact that it was orderly could ill atone for its pessimistic temper. All potency was declared to be in matter, which grew in obedience to a blind, inherent, but invariable tendency. But it may be admitted that, in spite of the mistaken spirit of the movement, its reliable method was a distinct advance beyond former concepts of an arbitrary regulation that was capricious, even though theoretically of divine origin.
The bitterness of the "struggle" that destroyed the less fit and the lack of general unity and design, together with the seeming unmoral and unspiritual trend of the new philosophy, combined to produce upon the world a somewhat chilling sensation, conveying an implication of agnosticism, if not of atheism. If, indeed, the natural order were found to be cold and utterly selfish, as well as orderly, could it be any real advance over the former more agreeable, even if erratic and uncertain, economy?
It was natural that the lower aspects of the new philosophy should come first into view. The coarser and cruder are always more obtrusive. But soon it began to rectify itself, so that even its pioneers gradually saw other sides of their rising structure; and presently other investigators added new breadth to its proportions, until it began to show coherence, unity and design, and, still more recently, altruism, beneficence and even love. Many added their contributions—that of Herbert Spencer, perhaps, being the greatest of all—and roundness and symmetry became fully evident, especially under the warm and beautiful touches of Le Conte and Drummond. The wonderful grace and harmony of the different sides and interrelations of the present evolutionary temple were undreamed of one short generation ago. Even the most conservative physicists and biologists now admit the demonstrability of the higher elements already noted. But it is also true that much of the materialistic trend and flavor—subtly, but perhaps almost unconsciously—is still retained. With all of its admitted saving and altruistic aspects, it yet means, to the majority, only a procession of seen forms, unmoral and largely mechanical, even though possessing a quality called "life" as the result of organization. In the race, the weaker perish, while the stronger survive and propagate their kind.
We may now note what we believe to be the crowning necessity to make development appear consciously what it is in truth—congruous, logical and complete. In effect it is the metaphysical (that which is beyond the physical) point of view: condensed into a few words, that all progress is located in the unseen mind, soul, or life of everything, and that the seen forms are only expressions, or indexes. The advancing states are steps of internal character, and this seizes upon matter to translate itself outwardly. Matter per se never progresses; that is, so long as it remains relatively matter. It is the banner or sign-board of the particular character that is temporarily using it and playing behind it. The same plastic material appears, disappears, and reappears in higher or lower shapes, as the case may be. It is clay grasped by the hand of its molder. The elements that today make up the body of a tree, or a dog, may have figured in the material structure of seer or philosopher. It is the user, not the material, that ascends. The owner lays hold of it and erects it according to his own specification. It is just the well-fitting clothing, showing the quality and taste of its proprietor. He makes no mistake in its shaping, but a history of the raw material would show endless mutations. For illustration, the real tree is the tree-life, not the stuff that it lifts into graceful form. True, we may study the latter and appreciate its beauty and symmetry, but it is unwise to mistake the picture for the substance. The dynamic potency, or active energy, is all in the unseen tree. This lays hold of the cruder equipment and deftly fashions it true to species, overcoming gravitation and other obstacles in its expansive outpicturing. The principle is clear. Internal soul conditions correspondingly mold and fashion the outer. The figure 5 means nothing in itself, but it is an index or symbol of the living reality of number. Life never perishes, and its manifestations are endless.
It follows that the less fit, which were supposed to have been crowded out of existence, are perfectly conserved and only awaiting suitable costume in which to give a shadow pantomime of their next step of unfolding quality. Nothing is, nor can be, lost. Conservation in some form is universal. Those lives that seem to drop out of the great procession—said to die—disappear only to reappear in nobler and sweeter shapes.
When the higher human plane is reached, man becomes a conscious partner with Divinity, and, recognizing the law, cooperates in his own evolution. This he accomplishes through ideals, which he sets up before him, and like great magnets they draw him forward. He identifies himself with the law of unfoldment until he becomes a law unto himself.
In the light of the principles already outlined, let us now gather up and interpret, synthetically, the grand purpose and spirit of that higher and real evolution of which the procession of seen forms furnishes the translation. We may reverently infer that God is the Substance of all things, and that he made everything from himself. This is not pantheism, but divine (or spiritual) monism.
It is a great fundamental principle that there will ever be a spiritual restlessness in man until he finds God, or, in other words, attains the divine consciousness. This is the evolutionary drawing force. The quest is universal, even though with the vast majority it be unconscious. Men are ransacking the earth, hunting high and low, to find—they know not what. In reality, the goal is the living contact and jointure of their own higher selfhood with the Universal. Religions are instituted, theologies set up, ordinances observed, sacraments celebrated, rituals formulated, denominations established, and ethical systems and philosophies promulgated—yet all are but varying attempts to find the great Ideal: to behold the one Reality. Seemingly, these earnest efforts form a great discordant chorus. Outwardly they are incongruous and often appear antagonistic. But they all may be defined as the multiform searching of sincere, striving humanity to satisfy a subtle soul-hunger. Not one of the many means employed is bad—not one but what has a use. The spiritual evolutionist can condemn none. They are all different roads toward the "Father's House." Whether narrow, indirect, or steep, they are well-meant attempts to satisfy the great longing. Every man will cling to that in which he—and he is just like no one else—can see the most of God. The Romanist finds more of the Divine in consecrated art and ceremony, while the varying schools of Protestantism turn with differentiated emphasis to creed, ritual, ordinance, doctrine, sacrament, music, prayer and praise, each with the inherent, even if unintelligent, importunity—"Oh, that I might find Him!" Institutions fit themselves to human peculiarity. Not one in its special time and place can be spared for a substitute. But men will search the objective world over for God, before they are ready to find his presence and image within. The lower rounds of the evolutionary ladder are thus all outside. It seems almost like a paradox that the highest one is the nearest, or, in a word, subjective.
Can we not now see and feel the logic of universal reconciliation? Everything in God's universe is our near relative. Even institutional science is reaching such a conclusion. Nothing can be really antagonistic. May we not now bring this reconciliation yet more into the concrete? Have those who have felt the stirring of the broader spiritual philosophy always exercised a tolerant judgment and charity for those who are toiling up steps in the rear? Has not some disrespect and even condemnation been shown toward the sectarian and the literalist, and perhaps mild contempt for the devotee of creed and dogma? Think a moment. The members of the most bigoted sect, just for the present, find more of God in their chosen system than they can possibly find elsewhere. Among the endless variety of instrumentalities that are pushing men along, every church, creed, system and philosophy has a place; and not one can be dispensed with until its work is fully done. Those who are just now upon such a round of the ladder as fits them must take that step before they are ready for the next. Let us be as fully reconciled to them as to those with whom we touch elbows. This does not in the least favor inactivity, or a supine content with things as they are, but it does imply the absence of antagonism and the exercise of an intelligent charity. We may show our better way, in season and out of season, but it is not the better way for the other man until he so recognizes it. He will not and should not move until, in response to light from within, he does so of his own free will.
The oft repeated metaphysical aphorism that "All is good" has been mystical and often incomprehensible, but under the searchlight of the higher evolution it is clarified and resolved. If the progressive stairway contained a hundred steps, might we not say that one who is upon the twentieth step is as good in his place as one who is upon the fiftieth, provided he is faced forward and keeping step? Both are brothers in the all inclusive procession and bound for the same destination. Just now the man fits the step, and the step the man.
It is unwise to make any overt attacks upon old beliefs and ideas. The moment they have served their purpose they will melt into fluidity and furnish the very material needed for recasting. Love is the sequence of reconciliation, and here the beauty of its universality will be felt. We are thus led to believe that evolutionary progress is but another name for education Godward. It is the gradual uncovering, through growing human capacity, of an all-inclusive Love—not only a love that seems religious and spiritual, but one that may truly be termed cosmic. "God is Love."
May we not now divine the great necessity that is laid upon man? Although always a spiritual being, having God's image within him, and although he has ever lived, moved, and had his being in the Eternal, yet he must needs be involved, or cast in low form, in order that through the educational process of working his way back he may discover his true rank. He has been distanced from the Deity only in consciousness. In reality he has never left the "Father's House," his seeming journey being only a dream in sensuous matter and material embodiment.
Life may be likened to a mighty gulfstream, sweeping away from the Great Source and bearing everything upon its bosom, only eventually to float all back again with perfected understanding and recognized oneness. During this great voyage, individuation and voluntary God-likeness are unfolded. The Word becomes flesh in order that flesh may finally become the Word.
Finally, can we with the telescope of faith essay to catch a supreme glimpse of the great educational curriculum? In the tremendous cycle of creative development, the Divine Life first involved itself into the lowest or most diffuse forms, and at length, through a series of grand steps, gathered itself and became more determinate, coherent, organized, and individuated—successively unfolding life, organic life, sensation, instinct, consciousness, self-consciousness, spiritual consciousness and finally divine consciousness—thus blossoming into "sons of God," in which form, with ever-growing capacity and reciprocal love, the rounding of the circle is made toward the "Father's House." Divine Love craves voluntary and intelligent love in return, and nothing less than its fullness can bring the complete equilibrium of the Perfect Unity.