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What is Philosophy?

Part III

Other's Needs

Or,

The Law of Distribution

This is Philosophy, to make remote things tangible; common things extensively useful; useful things extensively common; and to leave the least necessary for the last.
—Walter Savage Landor

Among the many sayings of Christ not recorded in the Gospels is that notable one, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." And well may the world profit by the saying, for whereas receiving may benefit the recipient, giving is, like mercy, "twice blessed," for it blesses alike both giver and receiver. And as nothing that exists is useless, so nothing is self-sufficient or complete in itself. Moreover it exists not for its own sake but for the sake of the universe of which it is an integral part. Thus viewed, everything, however small and insignificant is a means to a preordained end. Nor is man exempt from these limitations. Every individual man, woman, and child is a member of God's family, and what each receives from the Giver of all is meant, not for his or her own use alone, but to be shared with all the others for whose benefit, no less than for that of the individual, that gift was given.

Let anyone realize this fact, as an essential condition of a healthy and happy existence, and the one sole aspiration of his life will be:

May I reach
That purest heaven,—be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense—
So shall I join the choir invisible,
Whose music is the gladness of the world."
—George Eliot

That exquisitely beautiful expression, "the sweet presence of a good diffused," is no mere vision of a poetic soul. It is a scientific fact. The essential nature of goodness, like that of truth, is to diffuse itself continually, and we see the same law at work in the material world. Every stream that flows distributes blessings right and left, and is then diffused over and over again, first into the bosom of the great ocean, then into the clouds of heaven, then in the gracious rain, and then back again to the womb of mother earth to be reborn, "a rivulet then a river." Even the vagrant wind has his heaven-appointed missionary journeys to perform. Always in search of some earthly need awaiting supply, he is continually making for some spot where the warmed air ascending has left a vacuum, and it is to till that empty void that this messenger of God is ever hastening on his trackless journey. How often one hears that foolish saying, "If I were rich I would be a philanthropist." No, friend, God does not want your money but your heart, and perhaps if you were rich your heart would be choked with the cares of this world. Hear the wise man, rich in wisdom, albeit a poor travelling tinker: "Christians," says Bunyan, "are like the several flowers in a garden, that have on each of them the dew of heaven, which being shaken by the wind, they let fall their dew at each others' roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of one another." Here in a single sentence is condensed the essence of true religion, morality, philosophy, and science all in one—the duty and the privilege of becoming nourishers of one another." Diffusion is the ruling principle of the universe. The trained eye of science discovers everything in nature to be in a state of flux. The various forces, of which the resultant is Life, move in a vortex which, flowing through matter, moulds its constituent particles into definite forms and then passes on to other organisms, in like manner disposing their particles into new combinations, and this process of diffusion goes on without intermission. Thus every organism, while continually imbibing new material, is at the same time giving out products which, having supplied the life-need of the moment, at once pass on to serve some other need elsewhere. To retain such used-up products would mean stagnation, decay, and death. Even the great sun itself is continually supplied with fuel in the form of a continuous influx of meteoric matter from the surrounding interstellar space, and this material, rendered incandescent and transmuted into power, is shot forth and diffused all around in one ceaseless shower of light and heat and chemical life-giving energy right away into the uttermost parts of the universe. And we see exactly the same principle at work in our very selves. Everyone knows that the thoughts, coursing through our brains, form our characters. They are not only molding influences but the very material itself out of which our characters are built up. Nor is it only our own characters that are thus continually being formed and transformed by our thoughts, but also the characters of those with whom we come in contact, for thought, like light, never rests. The influence of a kind thought, much more of a kind action, never dies but gathers force as it speeds along its appointed journey just in the same way as the sunbeams radiating from the sun. And here is the question for us: Are we sending forth Light and Life or are we dealing out darkness and destruction? To answer this question we must look within.

Of all human spiritual needs, by far the greatest, because it comprehends all that is good and wise and beautiful, is LOVE. It is a treasure that all possess and therefore one that all can give; a treasure that increases with the using. As all men, the just and the unjust, the rich and the poor alike, are blest with the material light of heaven, so their souls are filled with the Divine Love, for God Himself is Love. Without that Love man could not exist, and therefore it comes to him and flows through him as the Water of Life through channels innumerable, without measure and without stint. It costs him nothing, he receives it without money and without price. Yet how often he begrudges to open the sluice-gates of his heart so that, by letting others share with him the Living Water, this most needful and most "useful" of all things may become "extensively common!" How is he by conscious effort to communicate this priceless treasure to others? By his daily and habitual conduct towards them; by unselfish service; by his forbearance, his kindness, gentleness, patience, trustfulness, and purity of heart. By the diligent exercise of these and such-like virtues he reflects and disseminates broadcast that Love of God which passeth all understanding. Thus he cooperates with the universe in working out the great law of Supply and Demand; thus he is privileged to take part in the glorious ministry of angels; to further the redemption of mankind, and to hasten the coming of that Kingdom for which we pray in the Lord's Prayer. The power of individual influence and the force of personal example are of incalculable importance as factors in the regeneration of mankind. It is a common experience that people instinctively, sometimes unconsciously, and often even against their own will, imitate one another. Such is the magnetic power of personal influence. As to the stupendous effects which Christianity has produced as a world-transforming power, it may with truth be attributed to the fact that it is founded not only upon abstract principles but upon an objective and concrete ideal, namely, the personality of Christ as a simple example to be simply copied, so that the shortest and truest definition of Christianity is: The imitation of Christ. In this finished work of Christ, His life and death, we have an ideal realized—a finished picture, complete in all its parts, which is given to us to copy—and, but for this, Christianity would be an impossible problem and the application to our own lives of the Sermon on the Mount a hopeless task. From that life and from that sermon we learn that to live for others and in others as a part of them is the only life worthy of the name, and that it is by losing our soul—i.e. by diffusing it into others—that we save it. The personal must dissolve itself in the general, the individual life in that of the community. That is a supremely beautiful idea of Coleridge's in which he contrasts the two selves, the lower natural self with the higher spiritual self and shows how by projecting oneself, as it were, by "sacred sympathy" into the lives and spirits of others we "might make the whole oneself."

Self that no alien knows,
Self, far diffused as fancy's wing can travel!
Self, spreading still! oblivious of its own,
Yet all of all possessing.
—Gertrude Garrigues

As a fitting close to this section of our subject let us stand a while at the open door of that village smithy in the far west. The "learned blacksmith" muses on spiritual things as the bright sparks flash like falling stars from his ringing anvil. His words of wisdom have long ago enlightened and enriched not only his immediate neighbors and his countrymen at large, but many a lover of the good and the beautiful all the world over. "No human being," says Elihu Burritt, "can come into the world without increasing or diminishing the sum-total of human happiness, not only of the present, but of every subsequent age of humanity. No one can detach himself from this connection. There is no sequestered spot in the universe, no dark niche along the disc of nonexistence to which he can retreat from his relations to others, where he can withdraw the influence of his existence upon the moral destiny of the world; everywhere his presence or absence will be felt—everywhere he will have companions who will be better or worse for his influence. It is an old saying, and one of fearful and fathomless import, that we are forming characters for eternity. Forming characters! Whose? Our own or others? Both, and in that momentous fact lies the peril and responsibility of our existence. Who is sufficient for the thought? Thousands of my fellow-beings will yearly enter eternity with characters differing from those they would have carried thither had I never lived. The sunlight of that world will reveal my finger-marks in their primary formations, and in their successive strata of thought and life."

(To be Continued)

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W. H. Gill

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