The object of this paper is to show that a man's commission to fight in the Battle of Life is confined to the little kingdom of his own heart; that he is not at liberty to resist the evil that he thinks exists in other people until he has first overcome the evil that actually exists within himself, and that, even then, he must not render evil for evil but overcome evil with good.
Man, whose heritage and destiny is moral Life, is associated, during his sojourn in this world, with what has been aptly described as the perversity of human nature—that is, the tendency to do evil continually. This tendency shows itself in two loves, namely, the love of self and the love of the world. From these two loves stream forth all evils and falsities as from two fountains. But, fortunately for man, Divine means are provided by which he can be reformed from his evil nature and raised to a higher plane with a renewed will. By the laws of his Spiritual being these means are places within his power to use or reject just as he pleases, and this choice of action constitutes his "free will." Moreover, these means of emancipation from his spiritual bondage are revealed to man in the innumerable writings in the world purporting to be an expression of the Mind of God. Hence in John Bunyan's beautiful allegory the typical Pilgrim is represented as starting on his journey, alone and on foot, reading a Book and carrying on his back a heavy bundle. The book symbolizes the Truth or "Word" (Logos) of the Divine Love and Wisdom, and the bundle represents the aggregate of man's evil and corrupt affections—that is, the accumulation of sin, his ignorance, pride, self-love, and waywardness of disposition. And this load of sin a man has to get rid of by the three Divinely appointed processes of Repentance, Reformation, and Regeneration. There was a time when the Pilgrim was ignorant of even the existence of the bundle. And here is what, at first sight, appears a flaw in the story.
How could a man have a load on his back and yet not be aware of the fact? This, however, is not a flaw but a stroke of genius, and contains the gist of the whole matter. An old legend describes man as carrying two wallets—a large one in front, and a small one behind. In the foremost one he puts his neighbor's faults, in the other his own. And so, the Pilgrim's load being on his back and out of sight, he hardly knew it was there. How then did he find out he had a burden? Because he had been reading the Book that told him so. And now that his attention was called to the fact he began to feel there was something wrong with him. He felt uncomfortable. At first he cried simply, "What shall I do?" But, as he continued to read and think, the truth dawned gradually into his mind; and, the more he studied the Book and meditated thereon, the more clearly he realized the actual nature of his discomfort. And so by degrees the cause of his troubles began to assume a more definite form until there came a time when it appeared to him in the shape of a load of sins too heavy for him to bear, and then in the anguish of distress he cried out, "What shall I do to be saved?" This was the first step on his pilgrimage—the awakening to the fact that he was a sinner and that all his trouble, all his anxiety, all his difficulties arose from this cause alone, and that his only remedy was to get rid of his bundle with all speed and diligence. Such is the awakening of Conscience in the human soul. The man feels there is something wrong with him which produces mental pain and unrest. What it is exactly he knows not. But gradually, by study and self-examination, he finds out the nature of his malady, and he traces it to two sources within himself, namely, Ignorance of the Laws of his being and willful Disobedience to the same.
Also he makes this wonderful discovery, namely that he is full of Inward Enemies—his natural Passions—and that he is also full of a company of beautiful angels who stand ever ready to help him to cast out the rebe crew of his Vices; and these are the Virtues—a goodly company of faithful allies whose kindly help he can command by simply making up his mind to employ their services and co-operate with them against the baneful influence of his Passions. In this struggle against his Inward Enemies consists the Battle of Life.
But, alas, how slow man is to arrive at this knowledge! For a long time all is darkness within. He actually does not know that there are enemies in the camp, much less that there are allies on his side ready to fight with him and for him. And even still less does he realize this most important fact—that he is in control of these opposed forces, and that not one of them can raise a hand to strike or to wound without his own sanction. Thus in his own hands are the issues of the fight—absolutely and unconditionally—to conquer or to die in the Battle of Life. Until his ignorance is dispelled, and the eyes of his understanding are opened by the reading of the Book, he imagines that some malignant Power reigns over the universe and arbitrarily determines his destiny, his fate. That this cruel tyrant of his imagination delights in tormenting the human race with all manner of evil, imposing burdens too heavy to bear, like the one he has been carrying; a hard and unjust taskmaster requiring the making of bricks without straw, favoring one man and overtaxing another, sending one man to heaven and another to hell. He imagines that all is wrong with the world, that he is surrounded by enemies, that every man's hand is against him. But the awakening of the Conscience at once begins to correct this false picture of his environment, and gradually he find that he has the power of shaping his own end and coloring his own surroundings. If he acts wisely, this knowledge obtained from the Book becomes power, and he forthwith commences operations by applying to this inward and spiritual warfare all the science and skill and device that hitherto he has foolishly expended on fighting with imaginary enemies outside, that is to say, the evil which he imagines he sees in his fellow creatures because his own eyes are evil. He has been fighting against his Maker whom he took to be his greatest enemy, and against his fellow-creatures who, as he thought, aided and abetted in making a slave of him and in every way embittering his existence. Now he sees that God is his best Friend, he Father, the Source and Giver of all Love and Wisdom and Power. That in His Strength lies his own strength; in His Blessing lies his own success; in serving Him alone with all his heart lies his own happiness and peace and joy. Now he sees that his appointed warfare is not against God and man but against himself—a spiritual warfare against those principalities and powers of darkness that possess the kingdom of his soul. All these things are written in his Book, and by applying its searchlight to the dark chambers of his soul he beings to see more clearly those Inward Enemies and to devote all his energies to vanquish and overcome them. He also soon finds that, by the exercise of his will to exterminate his enemies, the quality of it gradually becomes changed; he loses his old waywardness and becomes more reasonable and gentle, more obedient to the gracious Voice of Love within that is continually pleading, "Come unto me and I will give you Rest." He begins to realize that this Mysterious Presence within him is the source of all his own power, that in obeying the Voice he is all-powerful to defeat his enemies and to resist the temptations of the outside world, while in disregarding the Voice he is helpless and stumbles at every step. Moreover—and this is all-important—in the gentle tone of that still small Voice within him he recognizes the same Voice that speaks in the Book. It is "The Truth," The Word, The Divine Wisdom.
Many an inquirer, coming upon these conclusions for the first time, will exclaim in surprise, "What! Is that the Battle of Life? I thought that was to be fought in and against the wide wide world, perhaps in foreign lands, on high seas, with material weapons against foes of flesh and blood." Well, it may be strange, but nevertheless it is true. In that little chamber which we call the human heart is going on the real struggle of a man's life—his spiritual life: it is the council chamber of all his warlike deliberations, the theater of all the tragedies of his life, and therefore the real battlefield. Nay, rather, it is the deck of his warship, and, little room for fighting there! The smaller the field of action the nearer the foe, and the more desperate the fight. It is a hand-to-hand struggle for life. When man is led into the wilderness of his own heart for a temptation-combat he is shut in with his enemies. His enemy is his own reflection in the mirror, his own shadow on the wall, the seamy side of him, the dark side of the picture, the powers of darkness which can only be dispelled by the Light of Truth that streams from the pages of the Book. But see! Here are more resources; here lies his real hope and confidence. Here is supplied to him by his Captain a whole armory of weapons both offensive and defensive. His Master, who fought the same fight before him, supplies the needful weapons. Here is the inventory of this "Armor of Light"—the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
But, it may be asked, how about evil others; are we not to fight against that? In reply to this the Voice say, "No; you see motes in the eyes of others because of the beams in your own." In the same way we may think we detect faults and fallacies in other people's philosophy, religion, politics, conduct, and we want to set them right, but again the Voice says, "No; if you want to reform others, first reform yourself." And so in respect of avoidable temptation from without, even when we think of some possible good that may come of it, we must flee from it as from a pestilence, for evil is infectious and pitch defileth; and again the Voice says, "Blessed are the pure in heart." Yes, your heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit; keep it holy. Your heart is your fort and citadel; hold the fort, guard the citadel. That, mainly, is your work, and it will need all your vigilance, all your power, all your resources. Then, again, others may provoke us to fight against them in thought, or word, or deed, but obviously we are not obligated to accept the challenge or return the blow. On the contrary our Captain's instructions are emphatic and unmistakable. Rather than retaliate we must offer the other cheek. In such a case we are to use the shield and not the sword. We are to say, "No; I do not want to hurt you;" or, better still, to think this, and say nothing, and do nothing. There is sometimes extraordinary power in masterly inactivity and studied silence.
Reader, beware of self-deception, mistaken zeal, self-interest philanthropy. If you would help to take away the sin of the world as well as your own, to lessen the sum total of human misery, cultivate a sweet and gentle disposition towards the world. Self is your only enemy. Outside of self you have no enemies to fight. All are friends. And not only friends but brothers and sisters, and as you treat the world, so the world will treat you. When men have found out and realized these Truths of Life, these Secrets of the Lord, who is the Prince of Peace, then shall warfare be abolished for ever, and all the swords and bayonets in the worlds shall be beaten into ploughshares; then shall that inward life-struggle, which is the real Battle of Life, be over for ever, and there shall reign within your soul that heavenly Peace which passeth all understanding.