When one of the best and wisest souls among the teachers of our race said, "Consider the lilies how they grow," he uttered one of the most beautiful and profound sayings ever addressed to human intelligence. The growth of the "lily" is typical of all growth, and brings us face to face with the great facts of Life, of Strength, of Beauty, of Fragrance. So, also, when using the growing corn as typical of the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven, the same great soul said, "First the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear." He thus brought his hearers (and those who today read his words) to the consideration of that great force which lies behind all the growing things we see, and to its certain usefulness and good to man. It is as though He had said, "See in all growth the true Divine idea of Life; from the smallest seed, like the ‘mustard seed,’ shall come wonderful developments of unexpected power and value."
There is a charming tale told of a political prisoner confined in an Italian prison, who was allowed to walk daily in a paved courtyard, and who one day saw between the stones a small green shoot, which soon put forth two leaves, and finally became a full grown plant with flower and seed; and by daily watching the growth of this poor prison flower—probably what we should commonly call "a weed,"—the forlorn prisoner found what he had hitherto been disposed to doubt, that all things, even the very least, were so ordered and governed by wisdom and goodness, that the most hopeless should never despair; and on regaining his liberty he carried the lessons he had learned when watching the changes in plant life in prison, into the duties of active and useful service, assured that the smallest acts were not without value, and that every stage of growth, in nature or in man, should be a stage of evolution—from weakness to strength, from imperfection to perfection, and from feeble good to mighty better; for if there is a science of growing plants, must there not also be a science of growing human lives? We see this on its physical side in the beautiful development of a healthy human being, as we watch its growth from infancy to manhood and womanhood. This growth is sometimes hindered and retarded by mistake or misfortune, but when wisdom in parents and prudence on the part of youth guide and govern the path to maturity, the gradual development is one of the greatest joys of life to the subject of it, as well as to all who love the person, and watch the glorious process. How best to nurture the change from immaturity to maturity, from childhood to manhood, is the great problem the nation is now seeking to solve by some scheme of “Education" which shall foster wholesome and beautiful growth, both physical and mental. As Carlyle says:—"I acknowledge the all-but omnipotence of early culture and nurture; whereby we have either a doddered dwarf-bush, or a high-towering, wide-shadowing tree. Of a truth, it is the duty of all men, especially of all philosophers, to note down with accuracy the characteristic circumstances of their Education, what furthered, what hindered, what in any way modified it.”
Whatever the wisdom of our legislators may one day be able to accomplish for the national education of the people, every single human soul can help or hinder its own mental and spiritual growth, for although the physical grows to a certain altitude and strength, and then most surely but gradually decays, the mental and spiritual may continue to grow and expand, not only to the very end of our earthly stage, but even beyond into the great limitless future about which we hope and dream. But our work lies here and now, and today is the day for our true growth and development. For this work of self-growth and life-growth no elaborate external machinery is needed, we possess all in our powers of thought and will, when reason and conscience point out to us the true to be believed, and the right to be done.
"It is only with renunciation that Life, properly speaking, can be said to begin;" this is the true "new birth" which, beginning in lowliest guise as the real childhood of our soul-life, is destined to grow into such proportions of usefulness and beauty, as may be possible to each. We see that an acorn, rightly planted, becomes an oak, whilst a thistle seed produces a thistle; so the original gifts of each man or woman come out when cultivated with steadfastness and thoughtfulness. That growth of soul-life we see and admire in a Milton or a Bunyan, or a George Fox, was supremely manifested in the life of Paul of Tarsus, who, when once he had heard the voice of conscience, had no word to reply to the highest powers, but only the deep note of self-surrender in the cry "What wilt thou have me to do?" And although few can grow to the stature of Milton or Bunyan or Fox or Paul, yet to every soul is given a life-work to do, even though it be like that lowly work of the common weed, which brought its lesson to the disconsolate and doubting prisoner. So each one of us, while life lasts, and "knowledge grows from more to more," should cultivate that true wisdom which speaks only true words, thinks holy thoughts, and rejoices in good deeds. All true growth must be growth in goodness. There may seem to be something to be gained by becoming what the world calls great, or rich, or famous, but it is better to become good by actual self mastery; it is better to conquer self than to win great battles, and "a poor wise man" may often become the savior of his fellows.
When the Hebrew prophet said "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier the myrtle tree," he spoke of no miraculous event to occur apart from man and his work, but indicated how man by the use of his powers should root out the evil for the good, and that this should be done not alone in the external world of tree and plant life, but also in the internal and spiritual life of the soul; for souls overgrown with the "thorns" and "briers" of selfishness, may gain deliverance only by uprooting these evil growths, and cultivating instead all the true unselfish virtues.
Thus for mankind generally we see a path into a beautiful and universal "growth in grace," beyond that looked for by the hopes of prophet or seer, because when men learn that each one has power within to rule himself and to master his own being and destiny, the whole community will rise above the slavery of self to that freedom of the spirit which is Perfect Law, so that Holiness may become the common rule of our daily life, and we shall learn to
The freedom and divinity of man.
—James Russell Lowell