There is a legend of a man who thought he was pursued by an evil being. His ricks were fired, his barns unroofed, his cattle destroyed, his lands blasted, and his first-born slain. So he lay in wait for the monster where it lived in the chasms near his house, and in the darkness of night he saw it. With a cry he rushed upon it, and gripped it about the waist, and it turned upon him and held him by the shoulder. Long he wrestled with it, reeling, staggering, falling and rising again; but at length a flood of strength came to him, and he overthrew it, and stood over it, covering it, conquering it, with its back across his thigh and his right hand set hard at its throat. Then he drew his knife to kill it, and the moon shot through a rack of cloud, opening an alley of light about it, and he saw its face, and lo! the face of the fiend was his own.
Thus it is with many of us. When business prospers, or ambition is realized—no matter how selfish or worldly it may be—and good fortune attends us, we plume ourselves on our righteousness and meritorious conduct, and, like the Pharisee of Scripture, thank God we are not as other men; but when trouble, failure and misfortune overtake us, we attribute our losses to any and every cause but the real one, and cry out, "What have we done to deserve this?" And the evil being whom we imagine dogs our footsteps and thwarts our every effort, is not circumstance, environment, ill-luck, lack of opportunity, or any other adventitious external thing, but, as in the case of the man of the legend, ourselves. Yet so blind is self to all sense of justice, that comparatively few comprehend this truth in its full significance, for the reason that it has to be lived to be realized, and is therefore not easily demonstrated.
If this is so in the material world, how much more does it apply in the spiritual world. Instead of aspiring to purity of life and the attainment of spiritual gifts, we seek personal happiness. In our endeavors to be rid of sin and all forms of evil, we go far and wide in quest of the monster that renders powerless all our efforts. We renounce money, position, friends, and marvel that sin and suffering, weariness and unrest, are still our portion. We fast and pray, and do penance; still, when a stronger temptation than usual comes, we fall, until we begin to imagine the sinless life to be a figment of a disordered imagination, and a delusion. Tired with constant effort, and despondent with continued failure, we welcome any faith that promises peace of mind and quietness of spirit. Thus we turn from creed to creed, and from belief to belief, each time imagining we have found the truth. But it is only spiritual anesthesia. Soon the awakening comes, and with St. Paul we cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death! "Peace! peace! O to be rid of this doubt and fearfulness, and for a faith to enable us to rise above all earthly things! In anguish of soul we pray, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?" and the reply comes quickly, "Renounce! renounce! give up all that thou hast." And the answer to our prayer astonishes us, for have we not renounced everything we cherished and valued, and still we are far from the Kingdom. What lack we yet? But the travail of our soul is nearly ended, for the answer comes, "One thing thou lackest, one thing thou hast retained, and that is thyself; renounce all selfishness, give up self and the peace of God is yours." All along you have been self-seeking, your renunciations were undertaken with the desire to gain something, consequently the virtues you prided yourself so much upon were as "filthy rags." You were righteous not so much because you loved righteousness, but because you desired peace, and a selfish happiness. Give up self and embrace the law of Love. Self is the antithesis of love. Then our spiritual eyes were opened, and the evil was located, not outside of ourselves but within. "For nothing without can defile a man, for out of the heart proceedeth all evil. "Now that we have realized this truth, a wonderful calm takes possession of us. Fear has taken wings and flown; strife, passion, anger, hate, weariness and unrest and all self-seeking find no lodgment in us, for we now possess the priceless gem of Truth, the peace that passeth all understanding, and the Truth has made us free.