The early Christian writers in several of their letters insist on everything in relation to the life and work of the followers of Jesus being well and strongly built. "Let all things be done to edifying," Paul writes to the Corinthians, and when writing to the Thessalonians he tells them to "build each other up," and to the Romans he says, "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." And Jesus is said to have spoken the parable of the wise and foolish builders in such a forcible manner that "The multitudes were astonished at his teaching." And we can quite see the effect of such a parable, told for the first time in a dramatic way to a crowd of ordinary men and women. The picture of the "wise man" who "built his house upon the rock," contrasted with the "foolish man" who "built his house upon the sand," the description of the rain descending, the floods coming, the wind blowing, and the firmness of the wise builder's house, contrasted with the destruction of that of the foolish builder; and then the final graphic touch, "and great was the fall thereof." We seem to have the whole transaction under our very eyes—the pouring rain, the roaring flood, the tempestuous wind— the strong house with foundations, firmly embedded in the rock, and the crash and ruin of the building erected by the foolish man on the sand, a warning for all ages never to be told in a way more wisely, more impressive or convincing. The power and simplicity of such a warning must remain one of the wonders of ethical teaching for all time.
We are all builders, on rock or on sand or other foundation; not always so widely or definitely contrasted. Ruskin in his delightful book, "The Queen of the Air," says: "A foolish person builds foolishly, and a wise one sensibly; a virtuous one, beautifully; and a vicious one basely. If stone work is well put together, it means that a thoughtful man planned it, and a careful man cut it, and an honest man cemented it. "You may read the characters of men and of nations, in their art as in a mirror;—nay, as in a microscope and magnified a hundredfold. "A man may hide himself from you, or misrepresent himself to you, every other way; but he cannot in his work, there, be sure, you have him to the inmost." And he concludes the lesson with the most practical and instructive thought, that in relation to all noble and good work—"You will find in the end, that no man could have done it but exactly the man who did it."
So, then, every man must build his own life, and by building true and strong, however small the sphere he occupies, every other life he comes in contact with must be helped and strengthened. Herein lies the supreme value of the great thinkers and workers and writers of all ages, their thoughts, and deeds, and words are deathless, eternal, progressive; and if the multitude could grasp the idea that if every man in his own limited circle would build his whole life on a definite plan—on the solid rock of a deep unselfish love—a real "Kingdom of God" would not be long in coming. Our poor sandy foundations of selfishness have been tried long enough, and found sadly wanting. No "Kingdom of God" is possible till we abandon all such methods of life. We need soul-building, character-building, life-building. The influence of material erections such as our Abbey of Westminster, our Cathedral of St. Paul's, or of Salisbury, may be valueless, but a man's life built on the foundation of goodness touches every other life he comes near. It is better to be an Oberlin and help a few villagers to cleanliness and virtue, than to be a Napoleon and destroy life, and conquer nations. If the soul now debased by evil and brought down by shame and sorrow would build up life upon the solid rock of right-doing—the power spent on wrong being turned in right channels how many homes now mourning over prodigals, might become scenes of gladness and peace! The dark shadow of evil now hanging over numberless lives might be exchanged for the light which shines ever brighter and brighter to the perfect day.
Those who have dreamt of "a golden age" in the past, were dreamers only, but those who see that man may rise above his evils by vanquishing self, look forward with confidence to a real "New Age" of love and holiness, when society shall be so permeated and saturated with unselfishness that united human souls will become indeed "a building of God." As Longfellow sings,
"For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our todays and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
"In the elder days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
"Let us do our work as well;
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean."
This is the great crying need of our race; we want lives "beautiful, entire, and clean." Every such life becomes in its degree "a means of grace" to others, bringing light and love and strength to a wider circle, and such forces of good brought into everlasting life and used as the simple outcome of souls triumphant over self and sense, will be the forces by which the "City of God" must finally be built.
The proud "Imperialisms" of Emperors and Kings will perish and pass away, but the Kingdom built by simple souls on principles of deep unselfish love will be eternal. Every effort, however humble, put forth by the most obscure and unknown man or woman, must have its due effect upon the rest of mankind.
We are told that quite recently an earthquake, of which no account has yet reached us, was recorded at an observatory at Birmingham by self-registering instruments, and although we have no machinery for making it known, we can believe that every act of noble self-surrender and sweet unselfish love can be recorded and built up into the great spiritual temple of goodness and power which is destined to cover the whole earth, and bring a real "salvation" which shall reach to the whole human family.