Of the many so-called religious books, both past and present, the greater number treat of metaphysical and theological questions having little or no bearing on that practical Religion which St. James calls "pure and undefiled"—the religion of Self-Sacrifice. It is as though a manual, designed as a practical guide for the drivers of locomotives, were to discuss the thermo-dynamics of elastic fluids instead of giving plain directions for the working of the engine. The common saying that "knowledge is power" is one of those many half-truths that at once enlighten and mislead, for knowledge is not power unless it is applied. Its efficacy depends upon its application, and this is entirely a matter of personal will and personal effort on the part of man. The will and effort once exerted, man for the first time begins to know himself and to see himself in his true colors—that is to say, as an enemy in his own camp—an enemy that must be utterly destroyed before he can attain true life and freedom. It is with the natural man, thus awakened to a knowledge of himself, as if God gave him a sword—the Sword of the Spirit—saying, "Smite with the sword!" and he, not yet seeing himself to be his own enemy, replies, "Whom shall I smite?" And the Spirit says, "Thyself." And sell, in righteous indignation, protests, "Nay, but I will smite any man rather than myself." So thought the impulsive Peter, so thought the intrepid Saul of Tarsus, when in their blind zeal for their Master's cause, and overlooking the enemy within, they drew the sword against His "enemies"—those enemies for whom He prayed, "Father, forgive them." And so the world—regarding as precedents what are really two of the most notable warnings in the New Testament records, and missing altogether the essential point of Christ's teaching—has, in the sacred name of Religion, stained (alas, how indelibly!) the page of history with the blood of martyrs.
We are here in the world for a certain purpose. What we have to do is to love our life—not to criticize or talk, or discuss other people's lives, but simply to live—strenuously, lovingly, sincerely, humbly, and, so far as is practicable, perfectly. Moreover, all the materials of our work are here.
There we shall find the universe centered, for the human heart is the theater of our existence, and there, and not in the incomprehensible universe of ether, are we to look for Heaven, and Hell, and the Intermediate State, and all else that the human imagination can picture as the invisible but very real machinery of that "Divine Comedy" which constitutes what we call the spiritual world.
All speculations as to the nature of God become vain and useless when replaced by that simpler faith which realizes our oneness with God as symbolized in the relationships of Father and Son.