One of the dangers which besets those who seek to follow idealism and dwell upon high and lofty aims is that there is a tendency to rest content with the beautiful ideals themselves as such instead of carrying them to practical issues, whereby alone they become really useful, helpful and substantial.
It is a danger of a most subtle kind, but of a deadly nature, for he who cherishes ideals merely for his own mental amusement is a hypocrite unconsciously, and he is in a worse state than the man who has no ideals, for the latter makes no pretensions and is therefore consistent and free from hypocrisy.
Furthermore we must realize that the danger of self-deception is great, for the holding of ideals is apt to lead a man to think that he is advancing, whereas he may be still stationary or even worse.
No seeds, however precious, can become fruitful unless planted; it is only when growth and fruition are reached that their value is manifest. No talent is of itself of any value, until put into active use and rendered productive of results. So too it is well-nigh useless for a man to acquire knowledge or to hold ideals simply for his own welfare and satisfaction—for this is but a refined form of selfishness. It is just as soon as he begins to put into active service for the benefit of the world and his fellow men that which he possesses that its real value becomes known, not only to others but to himself also.
No man liveth unto himself, and no man dieth unto himself, and nothing, not even knowledge or aspiration can possibly be an exclusive personal possession, and if a man seeks to make it such it turns to husks as fast as he acquires it.
Wealth of all kinds is valuable to a man just in the measure that he makes good practical use of it for the benefit of others. Sentiment divorced from active service becomes a mockery—darkness in the garb of light—a sham and a delusion.
A cyclist having been thrown from his machine was lying helpless by the roadside—many other cyclists passed at intervals, and all made some remark of wonder, regret, or condolence, but none of them actually realized a duty attaching to their feelings in the matter, and so they passed by. At length one solitary rider came along, and grasping the situation at a glance desired only to be of service, and so dismounted and carefully attended to the wants of the stranger, who had it not been for his care might have lain at the side of the road all night, for twilight was coming rapidly on.
They who had neglected their duty had each one left it to the other to take the initiative—but was it neglect any the less for that?
Ideals must be carried out, for if they are not ideals of conduct they are but empty dreams.
It is not sufficient that we merely abstain from wrong-doing; the command runs—"Cease to do evil, learn to do good." To hold ideals with a distinct intention of putting some at least into daily practice is the only worthy form of idealism—this will make a man the helper of his fellows—a divine agent for the world's upliftment, and having the ever-present desire to do good, be sure he will not often lack opportunities.
The poles are not wider asunder than the man of ideas plus purpose, and the man of dreams and apathy, and yet they may be easily mistaken one for the other by the superficial observer. The latter is an engine without steam, and consequently without movement.
In the words of the late Bishop Westcott:—
"The noblest truths are not given us for an intellectual luxury, still less for a moral opiate, or spiritual charm. They are for the inspiration of our whole being, for the hallowing and for the bracing of every power, outward and inward, with which we are endowed, for use in the busy fields of common duty."
There is for each one of us a wide scope for active usefulness, for the harvest is still great, and the laborers are still few comparatively—and moreover, our time here is limited," for the night cometh when no man can work." Every day—every hour yet remaining to us is laden with opportunities for action; there is no time for dreaming. We must be alert, intent, determined, and then we may rest assured that when our little day here is done we shall bear some few sheaves with us as a result of our exertions, rather than leaves only which alone can result from the indulgence of idealistic dreaming and selfish exclusiveness.