The words are at first sight vague to any but the soul who has learnt from life their practical meaning. To the veriest stranger however they can be made more clear by a parable from Nature. We have seen that the tree derives all its nourishment from the depths of the soil. At the surface of the soil the root is thick and insensitive like the trunk, but as the branches increase we find that the farthest away from the trunk are the finest and the most sensitive. Nourishment is chiefly absorbed by the delicate root-hairs at the extremities of the rootlets. Botanists tell us that at these extremities only growth and absorption alike become possible. The fresh, permeable tissue that marks the existence of growth is especially ready to take in food and send it on to nourish the older portions of the plant.
In the spiritual realm this connection between growing-point and absorption of nutriment is as indubitably true as it is in plant life. Doing faithfully the duty near us in our spiritual life corresponds to growth which is the main duty of the plant. Outside duty nourishment cannot easily be obtained. Everyone knows that this is so: but it is by no means equally true that everyone acts on it. For instance, I know a mother who in her zeal for good works is ready to hand over the care of her children to any hireling who will take it. Such a mother does not realize that she is cutting herself off from her best chances of spiritual growth.
I know a man who lives up to the most approved business maxims and worships Mammon most constantly and devotedly. He holds that his employees are only machines to be hired as cheaply as possible and cast aside without thought should profits or the exigencies of trade demand it. Yet outside business that man is renowned for the support which he gives ungrudgingly to all workers. No one is more surprised than he is when his efforts to do good turn out badly. He finds the world ungrateful, and the world’s ingratitude hardens his soul as the years pass by. He blames the world. The day will come when he will blame himself and will grow wiser.
I know another man who is thoroughly successful in business not because he has cut down wages, but because he has surrounded his employees with such care and kindness that they work for him freely and ungrudgingly. His goods multiply and he spends the increase on the improvement of the race. To this man advancing years bring no hardness, the possession of money brings no cares. He grows at the right point. To him the first daily duty that presents itself is the first to be done in a generous spirit. That duty comes to him straight from God, and in it God has hidden the best nourishment for the man’s soul.
As the rootlet lives and grows and has its being far from its visible support in the recesses of the soil, so we live and move and have our being in the depths of God. The deeper the better, be it remembered.
In Tennyson’s ‘Ode to the Duke of Wellington’ we are often reminded that
‘The path of duty is the way to glory.’
If we understand ‘glory’ to mean not the transient homage of a crowd moved to admiration of a man who has been unusually clever and persistent, but that ‘Light of the Eternal’ which dawns on the successful seeker after Truth, then that glorious motto may be ours forever.