It is the fate of religious terminology (as of religions themselves) to lose, during the process of time and in the minds of men, the living spirit which at first informed it, and to become, through constant intimacy and familiarity, as well as by frequent repetition, a dead and powerless thing upon the lips of men.
When the particular forms of phraseology originally framed by holy men lose their universal application to life, and come to represent the theological hypotheses and beliefs of a special church, then is the key of knowledge lost, speculation has taken the place of experience, fine words have supplanted good actions, and the time has arrived for a renewal of the spirit of Truth, first by holy acts based on experience and knowledge, and then through the media of new combinations of words.
Words cannot take the place of actions, and if words do not stand (to their users and hearers) for actual life, they are dead formulas. The world is lost and saved by its acts.
Thus the spiritual pioneers of the race teach by what they do; their words are supplementary only, and symbolize, after their death, what was, and is to be, done.
In how many minds today does any reference to that record of Saint Luke's, which is commonly abbreviated as "The Acts," call up the vital reality which lies behind that record? Has not the word "Acts" in this particular largely lost its true force and meaning, and assumed an unreal and theological application?
The saintly writer of that record of deeds knew that Religion is seen as actual life, that it is a thing made known in the form of actions, that it does not consist of insubstantial speculations about things, and that where holy deeds are absent, holiness is absent also. And so he put on record, for the guidance of men, not the opinions, beliefs, hypotheses, philosophies, but the avis of the apostles.
The recorder thus opens his narrative—
"The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, off all that Jesus began both to do and teach."
He strives to impress the reader with the fact that he is dealing with actualities. It is what was done by the Master and his disciples and apostles that is all-important. Doing must precede and accompany teaching, otherwise, teaching without doing is empty and useless, it is easy to talk about love and patience and purity and compassion and forgiveness, and to teach these things from the books, but the saintly ones do these things, nor do they attempt to teach them until they have first practiced them. What vain men only preach about, the Children of Light carry out in their daily lives. While the foolish man is talking, and trying to correct others, the wise man is silently practicing, and correcting himself.
Acts are the substance of life. They take their rise in the reality of things, and man is not deceived by them. Opinions and speculations are the dreams of life. They take their rise in that which is illusory and ephemeral, and man is deceived by them.
A man cannot do that which is contrary to his nature at the time being. His acts proclaim him what he is. They are pure or impure, selfish or unselfish, according to his nature. Every time a man acts, he is declaring unto the world—"even so am I." What he does, that he is, but he can alter his nature and purify his deeds.
Saint Luke knew that the acts of the apostles constituted their religion, that the edifice of Religion must stand on that which is done, and that deeds which are not confined to the narrow limits of self, but which speak forth the impersonal Truth, can be safely made a spectacle to the world, and left with it for its edification and enlightenment.
The historian of a nation, writes a record of the earthly deeds of temporal dignities, but the spiritual historian—the maker of Scripture—records the heavenly deeds of holy men. The acts of foolish and impure men are not recorded,—they are left to perish where they spring; but when a gentle doer and teacher of peace and goodwill appears, the saintly historian—some loving disciple or zealous apostle—is always at hand to narrate the beautiful acts and sweet life of his Master.
And so we are brought back to ourselves. Our opinions are but dust. Our beliefs and speculations are the distorted dreams of a night. Our deeds alone are of value, for they are our very selves; and what our acts are, such is our religion or irreligion. Look for a moment, O reader! behind the gaudy veil of your opinions, and see yourself as you are. If the acts of your life were recorded, how would they appear before the world? Would they reveal a disciple of Purity and Truth, or an apostle of impurity and self? One is easily self-deceived, but no man can escape that infallible judgment which he every day, by the nature of his actions, pronounces upon himself.
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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.