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Life's Bearings

"A painted ship upon a painted ocean." Such is the world's favorite emblem of that essentially unstable, moving, restless, transitory thing we call Human Life. The parallel has been traced in poetry and painting in a thousand different ways, all more or less familiar; but there are two points connected with navigation which the casual observer might miss, and which are nevertheless especially significant. One is the supreme importance of continually maintaining the ship's bearings; in other words, the ascertaining from time to time her latitude and longitude as the only means of determining and checking her present actual position on the chart. The other is the fact that if, from any cause, the sun, which is the one fixed point in our universe, be lost sight of, then her instruments of science—her sextant, chronometer, and compass—might all be at the bottom of the sea for aught of use they can be in taking the necessary "observations." So our Life must have its Sun fixed in the firmament of the soul. We—like the ship, the ocean, and the earth itself—are always moving; while God alone-—like the sun-—is absolutely fixed. Fixed! But where? In answering this question we must at the outset lay aside all metaphysical subtleties and scientific definitions as to the essence and nature of God, who is absolutely inconceivable and beyond the power of man's analysis, and the same must be done as regards any attempt to localize God except in one very special sense. With that limitation, however, the problem will become an exceedingly simple one; and, if approached in the right direction and with a humble mind, the question, Where is God to be found? need torment us no more. To say merely God is everywhere hardly answers the question. It is almost equivalent to saying He is nowhere, because, as a fact, we cannot conceive of either an everywhere or a nowhere; and so some people are always anxiously seeking God and never finding Him, while others give up the quest in despair and call themselves Agnostics.

What a happy thing, then, it would be to hit upon some reasonable via media of "observation" which shall serve as a working hypothesis of Human Life? Even as regards the physical sun, we cannot conceive its absolute position in space, because space being infinite is beyond the range of our sight and knowledge and imagination; but we can conceive its relative position—i.e. its position in relation to the earth. This is all that our typical ship can ascertain by means of her "observations" and, indeed, it is all she needs. The gist of the matter lies in a nutshell. Each individual man, woman, and child, is a microcosm, or world in miniature, and the main point, as a matter of practical religion which concerns our voyage of Life, is the localizing of God not in relation to space but in relation to each of ourselves. When Copernicus—in his new System of the Universe—saw, for the first time in the experience of man, that wonderful sight of the earth circling round the sun as a fixed center of Life and Light, instead of the old foolish idea of the mighty sun revolving round this insignificant unstable little planet of ours, he witnessed, as in a vision, the true relation of things, and thus for ever placed Astronomy upon a true and solid basis. So the great first step of the inquirer into spiritual science is to realize the foundational truth that God, who is the source and Giver of Love and Life and all other spiritual gifts, is Himself Spirit, by which we mean something more than a mere physical power (like electricity or light) dissipated and transfused through infinite space—vague, unapproachable, unknown, and forever unknowable. The physical conception is true as far as it goes, though even that is so vast as to stagger the most profound intellect. Why, then, vex and disquiet ourselves in vain by trying to grasp what is outside of us and utterly out of our reach? Can we by searching find out the Almighty? The answer is No and Yes. Absolutely, No. Some fail to find God because they do not look for Him where alone He is to be found by man. They go too far afield and so miss the object of their search. Instead of looking within and listening for the still small voice they look outside, expecting to see whirlwinds, fires, wonders, visions and miracles; and so multitudes pass through life without ever seeing Him at all. Or (shall we say?) they do not a recognize Him when they see Him. Relatively, the answer to our question is Yes. The fact that, to our finite conception, His position in the universe is unknown and unknowable need not deter us from our quest, for although that fact is the truth it is not the whole truth. It is only half the truth. Let us, then, seek the other half. Discarding what we cannot understand, let us descend to what we can understand —or, at all events, realize by our consciousness—namely, God's position in relation to each individual soul. Now we all admit, as a hypothesis, though we cannot understand it, that God is everywhere. And, that being granted, it follows as a rational sequence that He is here. We examine the collective testimony of the wisest men that have ever lived, and we find an overwhelming consensus of opinion in favor of this view. According to this idea each individual, being a little world of his own, has rays from the very same sun shining within him; each has life-power and love-power from the very same source operating within him. Thus there is a living center of Life and Light and Warmth, fixed immovably within each man's own self; a Divine Heart within his own human heart; a Life within a life, quickening his dull pulse into a fuller, deeper, stronger, purer stream. This is the mystery of mysteries, and yet the truest and most precious of all truths—the one supreme truth which constitutes human happiness, namely the realization of the fact that the Divine Spirit Himself dwells within these poor cold dark hearts of His own children. Only think of it, and of that passionate question of the great logician of Tarsus as it rings through the ages, "Know ye not that ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost? " Notice the impatient indignation of the questioner, as though he would say "Do you mean to tell me that you actually don't know what is patent to the meanest intelligence?" And yet although knowing it, as everybody born in this "enlightened" age must know, how few people in the present day acknowledge and realize the fact by living according to this their light! For still one constantly hears the question, How do you know that God is here dwelling within us? This would answer by asking this other question, How do you know that God exists? Certainly not by any process of reasoning either "inductive" or "deductive." There is a process far exceeding all such artificial systems. It is called Intuition. How, do you suppose, did Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Faraday arrive at their magnificent conceptions. Primarily by Intuition. They simply saw the thing with their soul's eyes, and afterwards rigorously tested, checked, counter-checked, examined and cross-examined the result in every possible way. In a word, first they saw and then they verified what they had seen by experiment and experience, for these two words are synonymous. And so what we call the religious faculty is a divine intuition, of which the manifestations are not to be received blindly, but subjected to the proof and verification of actual experiment. The proof of a tree is in its fruits, and the fruits of the Spirit are, "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."

Then knowing and acknowledging and realizing, as I do, that God Himself is within the narrow limits of this earthly tabernacle this house in which I live—dwelling there, operating for me and with me, supplying my every breath and heart-pulse—may I, dare I, say that I myself, by virtue of that mysterious alliance, am also in any degree a partaker of the Divine Life that dominates me? A solemn question, this and, as I pause in awful silence, there comes—quickly, straight, and clear—the unequivocal answer of the combined wisdom of all the ages:—"Yes; but only on one condition—and that not an easy one—namely, that you renounce utterly yourself and all that seems to belong to you, and that you empty your heart of self, so that it may be filled to overflowing. Thus, and thus only, by seemingly losing your soul you shall actually save it. Above all, cease for ever to think of God as a mere auxiliary and of yourself as the principal agent. Cease to think of Him as movable and of yourself as fixed by circumstances. His Will is absolutely and eternally fixed, like as the sun is in relation to the earth: yours is continually shifting, like as the earth is in relation to the sun. Take your bearings from Him direct. Think no more of Him as the material sun in the firmament, far off in some remote corner of the Universe, but as the central spiritual Sun of your soul which, if you look within, you will see trying to struggle through the earth-born mists of your own vain imaginings. Let it come forth as the sun in his noon-day splendor; let it stream out of you at every pore; let it fill your face with smiles and your voice with musical laughter; let its genial warmth radiate from you and warm the heart of everyone with whom you come in contact. Thus the sunshine of your life will become infectious and life—giving, and whereas you had few friends, people will emulate each other in gaining your affection. But, whatever you do, don't spoil all by imagining, as we are all so prone to do, that all this is your own doing, but simply let the Sun shine right through you, out of you, beyond you, like light passing through a lens. "Let your light so shine before men that they may "glorify"—not you, but—"your Father which is in Heaven." Henceforth you will have a new idea of Heaven. You will cease to look for it beyond the clouds, for you will realize that "the Kingdom of God is within you;" and, if the Kingdom, therefore the King Himself. Henceforth Heaven will become the center of your being instead of its circumference; and, instead of invoking Heaven and Heaven's King to come down, you will wake to the consciousness that both King and Kingdom have been established here in your very heart of hearts ever since the day you were born, and are still waiting to receive your recognition, your loyalty, your homage.

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« The Kingdom of God   |   Reflection (Poem) »

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W. H. Gill

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