—Joshua 1, 7, 8.
In the passing away of the old year and the incoming of the new there is something pathetic which strikes and arrests even the least reflective mind. Foremost among the many mental images that claim our attention is the idea of a universal progression. Man is a link in the chain of being, a bead in the necklace which, as it were, encircles eternity. What is the law or principle that brings those beads together and holds them in close relationship? Obviously it is the principle of unity represented by the one central string which serves as a common bond to all the beads. There is in the universe an attractive, progressive, and synthetic principle which results in what may be termed the Sequential Relation of things, and which in the microcosm called Man is aptly illustrated by that Wonderful triple alliance of memory, reflection, and expectation. This triple division of mental activity is clearly traceable in history, nature, art, and personal experience. And, first, let us glance at a familiar page of ancient history.
Plutarch tells us that when Caesar, on his way to Rome, arrived at the banks of the Rubicon, "his reflections became more interesting in proportion as the danger grew near; and that at last, upon some sudden impulse, bidding adieu to his reasonings, and plunging into the abyss of futurity, in the words of those who embark in doubtful and arduous enterprises, he cried out, ‘The die is cast,’ and immediately passed the river.” Now we must not from this incident rashly infer that by “bidding adieu to his reasonings" Plutarch means that Caesar blindly followed his impulse without first listening calmly to the voice of reason. On the contrary, considering the nobility of character which distinguished this greatest of Rome’s statesmen and warriors, we may be quite sure that he pondered long and anxiously before he finally decided to undertake the perilous enterprise. His first impulse indeed must have been—for he was a brave and intrepid warrior—to cross the river at all hazards, but before acting upon the impulse of the moment, he doubtless had brought his reason to bear upon the problem, and it was not until his reason had finally approved the motion of his impulse that he determined to act as he did. This coming to the point must have taxed to the uttermost all his mental resources—his powers of memory, reflection, and expectation that he had so often used before—powers he had acquired by sheer hard practice, and involving principles of cause and effect, laws of self-mastery and thought-control. In using that expression, "The die is cast," he evidently had in his mind, not blind chance, or "luck" commonly so called, but rather that good fortune which always favors the virtuous and the brave, just as by the "Fates” he understood those many opportunities which present themselves ever in the least eventful life, of using the God-given powers within oneself with tact and discretion.
Those of us who lack that power of quick decision which is the first essential of success and prosperity, as well as the time and leisure for systematically developing it, would do well to pause occasionally on our life-journey and ask ourselves a few simple but searching questions by way of taking the soundings, ascertaining the bearings, finding out exactly how we stand in our relation to the world, and, if necessary, readjust the balance, the disturbed Sequential Relation. On such occasions, as stewards and almoners of the Divine Bounty, we hear in the silence of our hearts the voice of Conscience—that great troubler of the human breast—peremptorily demanding us to give an account of our stewardship, for every day is for each of us a day of reckoning, a day of judgment. Indeed, not only once or twice, not only every day, but at every moment of life’s great enterprise we come to a Rubicon— that ever-shifting line that separates our past from our future. In the battle of life these Rubicons are very real boundary lines of separation, and yet by means of our will-power we can convert them into links of connection. By sheer force of acquired habit that mighty necromancer, Will, can throw bridges of boats across the stream as Caesar so often did over the rapid Rhine. What we call our “Circumstances" are often the creatures of our own imagination, reflections of our own thought. Our spiritual surroundings are the light—or the darkness, as the case may be—which a man radiates from his individual thought-world. Thus we invest ourselves with our thoughts and surround ourselves with a magnetic aura or spiritual atmosphere which either attracts or repels others. Every thought-current we send out—every wish, be it good, bad, or indifferent—is like a winged arrow shot from our bow, for it makes straight for the object of our aim, reaches it, and leaves its mark there. But more than this—although the world is slow to realize the fact—each invisible arrow recoils upon the marksman. Like a boomerang it returns to the sender. Though sometimes apparently slow, retribution is certain. The biter by the very act of biting is himself bitten. Just as the electric current transmitted through a wire returns of its own accord to the place of its origin through the solid earth though miles of space and literal "walls of granite intervene,” so your very thoughts return to us laden with other thoughts of like quality. And if our thoughts, much more our words and our actions. In this way, either consciously or unconsciously, either directly or indirectly, we shape or help to shape our destiny, our circumstances, our lives, more or less into conformity to our own ends and aims. All this, and much more of like import, we learn by introspection.
But also outside of us are teachers innumerable. Conspicuous among these are the Seasons as they come and go, each of them suggesting in its own appropriate and sublime language a definite object-lesson. The Spring reflects and recalls the innocence of budding childhood; the Summer, of perfected manhood; the Autumn, of rich reward and fruitage; and the Winter, of joyful rest as the reward of diligent toil and the looking forward to renewed activity in a higher sphere. Then, again, the circling months move round in a ceaseless procession—an ideal dance—each adorned with its distinctive flowers, and birds that fill the air with ever-varying melody, graceful form, and fantasy of color. But December is essentially the serious and reflective month of the year. Then the flowers, except a hardy few, retire from human notice, the birds cease their song, leaving us to meditate in the silence; the cold wind and inclement fogs drive man into the sacred shelter o his own home and the sanctuary of his own heart. Also it is the month that forms, as it were, the connecting link of the great chain of the years of our earthly life. Like a bridge it stands between the old year and the new. As we pass along this bridge we are forcibly reminded that in life there is no separation, no death, no aloofness, except what is caused by man’s own ignorance and disobedience. All Life is one unbroken whole—one continuous Sequence. For, indeed, rightly viewed, the boundaries or outlines of things serve a double purpose. Apparently they are only lines of limitation and separation, but really they also serve as connecting links which draw together and hold in position the adjoining parts. Thus ever between things unlike and even apparently contradictory and irreconcilable—especially in the economy of the spiritual world—there exists, if we could but see it, a hidden but very real oneness and unity which is the resultant of apparently contradictory forces and elements. To realize and utilize to the utmost this hidden principle of our nature is to possess the key that unlocks many of life's mysteries. It is one of those great spiritual laws, profoundly simple, which make all things work together for the good of that Great Whole which we call the Universe. By applying this principle to the conduct of our daily life it becomes possible for us to agree with our adversary quickly while we are in the way with him, nor need we any extraordinary effort of will to bring this law into operation. All we have to do is, simply and in perfect friendliness, to agree to differ from each other without necessarily any giving up of principles on either side. For though human responsibility must ever stand alone and individual, our very diversities of thought, word and deed will, under the silent operation of the law, take on beautiful forms, resulting in new and sweet harmonies we little dreamed of. Thus our specific differences of character and temperament, instead of becoming a source of strife and obstruction, will become centers of strength and mutual helpfulness, and this by the gentle exercise of our powers of endurance, tolerance, humility, and brotherly love.
May we all experience, as the year draws to its peaceful close, the emptiness of our lower life; and, filled with that exquisite feeling of being at perfect peace with all men, may we realize the springing up within us of a new Life which, being everlasting, can neither fade nor pass away.
(To be continued)