In wading through that ocean of literature in which, year after year, the ingenuity of man expends its best energy in trying to define the undefinable by forcing the spiritual principles of Religion into metaphysical and so-called "scientific" moulds, it is refreshing to find occasionally a book which, accepting those principles as Realities—albeit undefinable—deals with their practical application to the daily problems of Human Life.
From the earliest times the very Simplicity of Spiritual Truth has proved its own stumbling-block; for the practical part of Religion, apart from human creeds and dogmas, is verily Simplicity itself. The essential difference between theoretical and practical Religion is expressed in that familiar sentence, "Not everyone that saith unto Me 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the Will of my Father which is in Heaven"—a sentence which may be further compressed into: "Not Words but Deeds." Whether we acknowledge the fact or not, the constraining Power of the Divine Love ever flows within us as a perennial Stream of Living Water. If we co-operate, the result to us is Life more or less perfect according to the degree of our individual faith and effort. If we resist, the sad and inevitable consequence is spiritual death. That is the whole rationale of Religion—what may be called its statics and its dynamics. It finds a place, in different degrees of development and of purity, in all the religions of the world. And on that one grand, broad, and Divinely-Simple basis—the basis of the Universe itself—is built the pure, clear, transparent teaching of the little book under review.
At this point, anticipating a more copious quotation of the author's own words later on—and to add to these any words of one's own seems almost an impertinence—let the reader ponder this brief extract from the chapter on "Greatness and Goodness"—one of the most attractive in the volume. He says: "Wouldst thou write a living book? Thou must first live; thou shalt draw around thee the mystic garment of a manifold experience, and shalt learn that which no book and no teacher can teach thee...Let thy book first live in thee, then shalt thou live in thy "book."
Truly, in this case, the author lives in his book. At the very threshold, as it were, of the subject the reader is made to feel at home. He is conscious of being in the presence, not of a mental abstraction or a perishable record, but of a living man of flesh and blood and of like passions with himself; one who has been through the mill, through the thorns and briars of life, and is willing to impart his experience to others, as though he would say, "l have struggled through the wilderness and have found a glorious garden full of flowers and all manner of beautiful things: therefore come with me and I will show you the way! "Thus the manner is persuasive rather than dogmatic. Also the style, in which the emotional and poetic is happily blended with the intellectual, is peculiarly attractive and results in an artistic unity in which everything is made to subtend to the essential point. Indeed, it is this singleness of purpose, both in the matter and the manner of the book, that constitutes its peculiar charm. Nor is the writer ever betrayed into mere picturesqueness of language for its own sake. To him Life is a reality—the only one Reality—and not a vision, nor a poem, nor even a tragedy; and so the world—the sad, suffering world of humanity—is referred to always in terms of tender compassion. His quarrel is not with the outer world, but with the enemy within. He wars not with systems, or dogmas, or opinions, or views, either public or private, but with the stern facts of depravity as they exist in the heart of every individual human being until they are, by his own desperate effort, forcibly ejected.
In a former work, entitled From Poverty to Power, published in 1901, the author related the experience of his own life and how he had found "one Law, the Law of Love; one Life, the Life of adjustment to that Law; and one Truth, the Truth of a conquered mind and a quiet and obedient heart." Those who know that book—and to how many it has already proved an inestimable blessing!—will gladly welcome this sequel as a confirmation of the soundness of the doctrines already received.
Thus these twin volumes form together a comprehensive and lucid exposition of the nature and conduct of the Strenuous Life and of the end and reward of the struggle as realized in the finding of Rest in the Heavenly Kingdom.
In these books the metaphysical and the theological sides of religion are studiously avoided with a masterly reserve in the full conviction that religious controversy constitutes, now as ever, one of the most prolific sources of strife and ill-feeling among men. Only in passing, and without one word of bitterness, are we reminded of "the jarring notes of creeds and parties and the black shadows of sin, and are enjoined to "let these pass away forever," because, forming as they do no part of religion, they cannot "enter the Door of Life." We are bidden to look within for everything. If man will but quarry the mine of his own soul, he shall find there all the materials for building whatsoever he will, and he shall find there also the central Rock on which to build in safety." Again we read: "When a man can no longer carry the weight of his many sins, let him fly to the Christ, Whose throne is the center of his own heart...He ceases to argue about God who has found God within." As much as to say: We cannot define God; but what of that? Enough for us that in that little world of our own heart the Christ-Spirit is the Sun whence we derive Warmth and Light and Life. "Where Holiness and Love" are, there is Heaven. Heaven is here, "and if you do not know this, it is because you persist in turning the back of your soul upon it. Turn round and you shall "behold it."
Some people are apt to regard with disfavor any ethical teaching founded upon the principle of self-trust, self-reliance, and self-help, because they imagine that such teaching must tend to, if it does not actually imply, an egotistical independence and an absence of faith in a Higher Power than ourselves. This feeling is doubtless due to the imperfect understanding of the double meaning of the word "self" as involving the two opposed elements of our nature, called by the writers of the New Testament "the flesh" and "the spirit"—the two poles, as it were, of Humanity. Throughout the writings under review the divine nature of man is regarded as the Higher Self which, although in one sense is self yet in another sense is not self, but rather that indwelling Supreme Power or Principle of Goodness which, owing to the limitations of language, cannot be adequately or even approximately expressed by any one word. In the same way, according to this teaching, the regeneration of man is said to be effected by the "crucifixion of the personality." Now the word "personality," here and elsewhere in these books, must be distinguished from "individuality." Individuality comprises the whole man in his tripartite nature of body, intellect, and spirit, that is, the higher and the lower self combined; whereas by "personality " is meant the animal or lower self and its affections, which are always referred to as "desires," as distinguished from the affections of the Higher Self, which are called "aspirations."
Again, those who may at first sight object to recognize human Reason as the guide of human conduct, will find that the light of Reason (like Knowledge and Faith) is referred to throughout these books as only "a lamp," whereas "The Truth," which transcends the light of reason as the light of the sun surpasses the light of the moon, is a something which, though at one with reason, yet is not reason. Thus we read in one place: "All strength and wisdom and power" and knowledge a man will find within himself but he will not find it in egotism...He must obey the Higher, and not "glorify himself in the lower"..."The True Teacher is in the heart of every man." And so, again and again throughout the book, the reader is referred to "The Holy Teacher within Who speaks Wisdom" to the humbly listening soul...Be self-reliant, but let thy self-reliance be saintly and not selfish...Rely upon the Truth within you...The inward Wisdom which puts an end to grief...So shall the Unfailing Wisdom uphold thee in every emergency, and the Everlasting Arm gather thee to thy Peace." Thus self-reliance and dependence on God are regarded as practically synonymous, because complimentary, inseparable, and indispensable.
The chapter on "The Original Simplicity" is particularly strong and Emersonian, enforcing as it does the grand fundamental doctrine that all Truth is simple and that "Complexity arises in ignorance and self-delusion." Life is to be lived, not as a fragmentary thing, but as a whole. "Man evolves outward to the periphery of complexity, and then involves backward to the "Central Simplicity." Thus man in unfolding himself enfolds the universe." Mere opinion and speculation about this or that is naught to him who, "though he be accounted learned in the colleges, remains a dullard in the school of wisdom." And "he who has found the indwelling Reality of his own being has found the original and universal Reality." Here is sound advice for those restless and unhappy mortals who vex and disquiet themselves over the problematical when all the while that which far transcends the problematical, namely, "Pure Goodness," is so close at hand:—"O thou who strivest loudly and restest not! retire into the holy silence of thine own being, and live there-from. So shalt thou, finding pure goodness, rend in twain the veil of the Temple of Illusion, and shalt enter into the Patience, Peace, and transcendent Glory of the Perfect, for Pure Goodness and Original Simplicity are one."
And akin to Simplicity—which, indeed, is the test of all Truth—are Gentleness, and Goodness, and Greatness. "All Goodness is profoundly simple...Some men pass through the world as destructive forces, like the tornado or the avalanche, but they are not great...The greatest souls are the most gentle." And so of Art: "The greatest art is, like nature, artless...There are no stage-tricks in Shakespeare; and he is the greatest of Dramatists because he is the simplest...Be thy simple self, thy better self, thy impersonal self and lo! thou art great."
But perhaps one of the best things in the book is the essay on Competition, in which is drawn a singularly powerful picture contrasting "The Competitive Laws and the Law of Love." Here the writer, like a second Dante, bids the reader follow him "step by step...first descending into Hell, the world of strife and self-seeking, in order that, having comprehended its intricate ways, they may afterwards ascend into Heaven, the world of Peace and Love." He then shows by means of a remarkable illustration drawn from personal observation of the birds to whom he is wont to extend his hospitality during the severe frosts of winter, that, as among our feathered friends, so among men and women, "it is not scarcity that produces competition, it is abundance; so that the richer and more luxurious a nation becomes, the keener and fiercer becomes the competition for securing the necessaries and luxuries of life." Upon this important axiom he founds an elaborate and able argument, proving that "the strife of the world in all its forms, whether it be war, social or political quarreling, sectarian hatred, private disputes, or commercial competition, has its origin in one common cause, namely, individual selfishness." Outward systems of government are not, he contends, the causes but the effects of this inward strife—mere channels, and therefore the supply must be cut off at the source; mere branches of a tree, and therefore the root must be destroyed. In reference to one of the latest Utopias of the day, its promoters are reminded that even the "Garden City" cannot exist unless its ideal unselfishness is realized in the individual hearts of all concerned, and how even one form of selfishness, namely, self-indulgence, if fostered by its inhabitants, must "completely undermine the city, leveling its orchards to the ground, converting many of its beautiful dwellings into competitive marts, and obnoxious centers for the personal gratification of appetite, and some of its public buildings into institutions for the maintenance of "order;" and how upon its public spaces must rise "goals, asylums, and orphanages, for where the spirit of self-indulgence is, the means for its gratification will be immediately adopted without considering the good of others or of the community (for selfishness is always blind), and the fruits of that gratification will be rapidly reaped. The building of pleasant houses and the planting of beautiful orchards and gardens can never, of itself, constitutes a Garden City, unless its inhabitants have learned that self-sacrifice is better than self-protection, and have first established in their own hearts the Garden City of unselfish love. And when a sufficient number of men and women have done this, the Garden City will appear, and it will flourish and prosper, and great will be its peace, for out of the heart are the issues of life."
And as the root of selfishness lies in the heart of each individual, so does the remedy. A man must realize that "the way to destroy selfishness is not to destroy one form of it in other people, but to destroy it utterly, root and branch, in himself...and, having lifted himself, he will lift the world." Then, having finally vanquished the desires of the "personality" and retaining only "the essential things in life—the only enduring elements in character—integrity, faith, righteousness, self-sacrifice, compassion, love—which constitute life itself—a man becomes really free, for he is freed from all anxiety, worry, fear, despondency, and all other mental disturbances. "Though he walk in the midst of Hell, its flames fall back before and around him, so that not one hair of his head can be singed. Though he walk in the midst of the lions of selfish force, for him their jaws are closed and their ferocity is subdued. Though on every hand men are falling around him in the fierce battle of life, he falls not, neither is he dismayed, for no deadly bullet can reach him, no poisoned shaft can pierce the impenetrable armor of his righteousness."
In the section headed "The Finding of a Principle" is presented a carefully thought-out program of Self-examination, Self-analysis, and Meditation. The process is methodical, precise, and thoroughly practical—the three stages of discipline being set forth under the imagery of three "Gateways of Surrender." The first is the Surrender of Desire; the second is the Surrender of Opinion; and the third is the Surrender of Self. And in the succeeding section the various Principles of Life, which in the spiritual economy appear to us—and probably are—infinite in number, gradually appear less numerous, until ultimately they are "seen to be contained in one, namely, LOVE." And thus, after working diligently by a process of Simplification, proceeding always in contrary motion to that of evolution—namely, from the Complex to the Simple, from Variety to Unity—the Seeker after God eventually finds God; for there, within himself and in the Temple of his own Heart, he beholds his Fathers Face.
And now the reader has got the book, what will he do with it? Clearly it is not a book of theory but of practice. It is essentially and intensely practical. Some will, perhaps, pick holes in what little there is of theory, because that little is so simple and sounds somewhat strange compared with the conventional and complex teachings of the day; and all will of course admire the poetry. But the practical part?—and this is the essential point of the whole matter, the very end and object and aim of the book—what will he do with that? If it were an art manual—say, a book of exercises for the piano-—would it not be applied to the purpose for which it was intended, namely, to discipline the wrists and fingers of the player and make them strong and supple and masterful? And would not the earnest student of interpretative art spend hours every day in practicing those difficult but indispensable athletics of the hand? To these questions there can be but one answer. And what is Religion but the Athletics of Holy Living?
That this little book was lived before it was written is a foregone conclusion; and that it is the record not of an Experiment but of an Accomplishment is evident from almost every page. Anyone, therefore, who would profit thereby must apply its teaching to his own life—as its writer did to his—not in one sitting or twelve, but little by little, day by day, week by week—before he can reasonably hope to reap the promised harvest. And the nature of that harvest is happily suggested by the pretty design on the outer cover of the volume. Here, on a ground of royal purple, symbolizing The Heavenly Kingdom of man's inheritance, is figured in lines of pure gold a bunch of grapes, reminding us that, in the Father's Kingdom, Christ is "The Vine" and we are "The Branches," and that the purpose of our existence as branches is to bring forth abundantly the golden Fruit of The Heavenly Life.