Through the Gate of Good
Christ and Conduct
The Law and the Prophets
—Jesus (Matthew 7:12)
—Jesus (Matthew 19:17)
The commandments and precepts of Jesus were given to men to be kept. This is so simple and self—evident a truth that there ought to be no necessity to state it; yet, after the precepts of Jesus have been before the world for nearly nineteen hundred years, this necessity not only exists, but is very great, so widespread is the belief that the tasks embodied in the precepts are not only utterly impracticable, but altogether impossible of human accomplishment. This disbelief in the possibility of carrying out the divine commands is the primary delusion, due to ignorance, in which men are caught, and it is impossible for any man to comprehend spiritual things until he destroys it. The words of Jesus are the direct outcome of an intimate knowledge of divine Law, and his every utterance is in harmonious relationship with the Eternal Substance. This a man finds as he moulds the spiritual life contained in those words into his own life,—that is, as he succeeds in living the precepts.
Let us now examine these precepts, and see how they are to be carried out, and what they imply and involve. Most of them are embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, and all of them are directly related to individual conduct, so that there are only two possible ways of dealing with them, namely, to practice them or to ignore them.
It is not necessary for me to refer to them all separately, as, not only have my readers the Bible at their command, but each precept is based upon the same divine principle, and to learn the spirit of one is to know the spirit of them all. Indeed, seeing that not only all the precepts, but that the whole duty of life in its human and divine relationships has been embodied in the seventeen words, "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," it is only necessary to refer to the other precepts in order to elucidate the carrying out of this one, for in learning this one precept, the whole range of spiritual life and knowledge is involved—"This is the Law and the Prophets."
The precept is extremely simple; this is why men have failed to understand it and to put it into effect. Its application, however, to the soul of the individual leaves no room for selfishness and self-compromise, and so comprehensive is it that to carry it out in its entirety means the attainment of Christ-like perfection of character. But before a man can put it into practice, he must strive to understand it, and even this initial step necessitates a self-surrender which few are willing to make. A man can learn nothing unless he regards himself as a learner. Before a man can learn anything of the divine spirit within, he must come to the feet of Christ divested of all his desires, his opinions and views, yea, even of his cherished ideal, regarding himself as a little child, knowing nothing, blind and ignorant, seeking knowledge. Before this attitude of humility is adopted, the attainment of divine life and knowledge is impossible; but he who will adopt it, will rapidly enter into the highest revelations, and the carrying out of the precept will soon become easy and natural to him.
Having clothed himself with humility, the first questions a man asks himself are,—"How am I acting towards others?" "What am I doing to others?" "How am I thinking of others?" "Are my thoughts of and acts toward others, prompted by unselfish love, as would theirs should be to me; or are they the outcome of personal dislike, of petty revenge, or of narrow bigotry and condemnation?" As a man, in the sacred silence of his soul, asks himself these searching questions, applying all his thoughts and acts to the spirit of the primary precept of Jesus, his understanding will become illuminated so that he will unerringly see where he has hitherto failed; and he will also see what he has got to do in rectifying his heart and conduct, and the way in which it is to be done. Such a man has become a disciple of Christ, at whose feet he sits, and whose commands he is prepared to carry out no matter at what sacrifice to himself.
One hour's daily meditation upon this precept, combined with a sincere wish to learn its meaning and a determination to carry it out, would rapidly lift a man above his sinful nature into the clear light and freedom of divine Truth, for it would compel him to re-model his entire life, and to turn right round in his attitude towards others. Let a man, before acting, ask himself the question, "Should I like others to do this to me?" and he will soon find his way out of his spiritual darkness, for he will then begin to live for others instead of for himself; will adjust his thoughts and conduct to the Principle of divine Love, instead of blindly following his selfish inclinations. However others act towards him, he will begin to act towards all in a calm, quiet, forgiving spirit. If others attack his attitude, his beliefs, his religion, he will not retaliate, and will cease from attacking others, realizing that it is his supreme duty to carry out his divine Master's commands; and the carrying out of those commands will demand the readjustment, not only of his thoughts and acts, but of every detail of his life, even down to his eating and drinking and clothing. As he proceeds in this new life, the Teachings of Jesus will become luminous with a new light, vital with a new life, and he will feel that every precept is for him, and that he must carry them out, ceasing to accuse others because they do not carry them out. As he reads the words "Judge not," he will know that he must cease from all harsh and unkind judgment, that he must think kindly of all, just as much so of those who are unkind to him as of those who are kind to him; that if others judge and condemn him, he must not do so to them, and, putting aside all personal considerations, must deal with them in the spirit of equity, wisdom, and love. It will thus be seen that even in carrying out the one simple precept, "Judge not," a man must necessarily rise above much that is merely personal and selfish, and will develop unusual spiritual strength. This course of conduct, diligently pursued, will lead to the observance of the precept, "Resist not evil," for if a man ceases to judge others as evil, he will cease to resist them as evil. Of late years much has been written about nonresistance to evil, but he who would comprehend the spiritual significance of this, or, indeed, of any, precept, must not rest content with mere dialectic definitions of it, but must assiduously practice it; he can only find its meaning by doing it. And in the doing of this precept a man will destroy in himself the eye of evil, and in its place he will learn to look through the eye of good, the eye of Truth, when he will see that evil is not worth resisting, and that the practice of the good is supremely excellent.
Whilst a man is engaged in resisting evil, he is not only not practicing the good, he is actually involved in the like passion and prejudice which he condemns in another, and as a direct result of his attitude of mind, he himself is resisted by others as evil. Resist a man, a party, a law, a religion, a government as evil, and you yourself will be resisted as evil. He who considers it as a great evil that he should be persecuted and condemned, let him cease to persecute and condemn. Let him turn away from all that he has hitherto regarded as evil, and begin to look for the good, taking passion, resentment and retaliation out of his heart, and he will very soon see that what he has all along been resisting as evil has no existence as such, and that it was merely an exaggerated and illusionary reflection of the passion and folly which were in himself. So deep and far-reaching is this precept that the practice of it will take a man far up the heights of spiritual knowledge and attainment, and when, by following its demands, he has so far purified and overcome himself as to see good and not evil in all men and all things, he will then be prepared to carry out a still higher precept (though one contained in the primary precept), namely, "Love your enemies."
Over none of the precepts do men stumble more than this one, and the cause for such stumbling is near at hand and very plain. It is to be expected that men who regard fighting, retaliation, and hatred towards their enemies as indications of nobility of character should look upon this precept as not only an impracticable, but a very foolish command. And from their standpoint of knowledge they are right. If man be regarded as a mere animal cut off from the Divine, those fierce, destructive qualities which are esteemed noble in the beast, are noble in man. To such men, living in their animal qualities and instincts, meekness, forgiveness and self-denying love appear as cowardice, effeminacy and weak sentimentality. lf, however, we recognize in man certain divine qualities (more active in some than others, but possessed in a measure by all), such as love, purity, compassion, reason, wisdom, etc., which lift him above the animal, then the precept, "Love your enemies," not only appears practicable, but is seen to represent the rightful and legitimate state of man. To the man, therefore, who says "This is an impossible precept," I would say, "You are right, to you it is impossible; but it is only your unbelief in the efficacy of those qualities which constitute Goodness, and your belief in the power of the animal forces, that make it so; reverse your attitude of mind, and the impossibility will fade away."
No man can carry out and understand this precept who is not willing to renounce his animal nature. He who would find the Christ (the pure spirit of Truth) must cease to warp and blind his spiritual vision by flattering his feelings and passions. The source of all enmity within himself must be destroyed. Hatred is none the less hatred when it is called dislike. Personal antipathies, however natural they may be to the animal man, can have no place in the divine life. Nor can a man see spiritual things or receive spiritual truth while his mind is involved in malice, dislike, animosity, revenge, or that blind egotism which thinks "I (in my views) am right, and you are wrong." The keeping, then, of the commandment, "Love your enemies," necessitates the removal, from the heart, of all hatred and egotism, and as this is accomplished, the Principle of Divine Love, which is unchangeably the same towards all,—the just and the unjust, the sinful and the saintly,—takes the place, in the consciousness, of those violent animal and personal loves which are continually changing, and coming and going, and which are inseparably linked with their opposite of violent hatred. It is impossible to love one's enemies whilst living in the animal personality, for that personality is of the very nature of blind love and hatred; it is only by deserting the personal elements that the impersonal, divine Love, which does not alter with the changing attitudes of others, is found, and can become the dominating factor in one's conduct; and when that is done, the disciple realizes that his true nature is divine.
The Love, then, which enables a man to deal kindly with his enemies, and to do to others as he would like others to do to him, irrespective of their attitude of mind, is not an emotion, impulse, or preference, but a state of divine knowledge arrived at by practice; and as this knowledge is perfected in the mind, the Eternal Principles of the Divine Law, of which the Prophets spoke, and on which they stood, are comprehended. He, who will keep the precepts of Jesus, will conquer himself and will become divinely illuminated. He who will not keep them will remain in the darkness of his lower nature, shut out from all understanding of Spiritual Principles and of the Divine Law. Herein, also, resides the infallible test of discipleship, for it was none other than Jesus the Christ who said, "He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings," and "He that hath it my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me."
(To be continued)
Chapters from this series of articles were later published as a complete book.
Which from the night shall drive thy peace away.
In months of sun so live that months of rain
Shall still be happy. Evermore restrain
Evil and cherish good, so shall there be
Another and a happier life for thee.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.