A clear and firm head must precede and accompany a clean and gentle heart. Without the first the second is impossible, for the qualities of purity and gentleness can only be reached through a clear perception of right and wrong, and by the exercise of an irresistible will. The strength of a powerful animal, or of that animal force in man which enables him to gain the victory over others by attack and resistance, is weakness compared with that quiet, patient, invincible will by which a man overcomes himself and tames to obedience, and trains to the service of holy purposes, the savage passions of his nature. Every dog can bark and fight, and every foolish man can rail, abuse, fence with hard words, and give way to fits of bad temper; these things are easy and natural to him, and require no effort and no strength, But the wise man puts away all such follies, and trains himself in self-control—trains himself to act unerringly from fixed principles, and not from the fleeting impulses of an unstable nature.
And he who succeeds in so training himself is able to train others, in a small degree by precept, but largely and chiefly by practice, for example, for it is preeminently the prerogative of the wise to teach by their actions. The mockeries of Herod, the accusations of the people, and the fanatical persecutions of the priests, all failed to draw from Jesus one word of complaint, bitterness, or self-defense. Such sublime acts of silence and self-control continue to teach, for ages, both individuals and nations, with far greater power and effect than all the words and books uttered and written by the world’s vast army of priests and learned commentators.
To retaliate and light belongs to the animal in man as it also belongs to the beasts of the forest; but to refuse to be swayed from the practice of a divine principle by any external pressure—to stand firm and unalterable in goodness and truth alike amid blame and praise—this belongs to the divine in man and in the universe.
To alter one’s conduct in order to please others, or to avoid their censure or misunderstanding, can never lead to spiritual strength.
That divine kindness which always accompanies spiritual understanding and strength, is something very different from merely saying pleasant words—for pleasant words are not always true words—but it consists in doing what is best for the eternal welfare of the other person or persons.
The weak father who is unfit to train children, only considers how he can escape trouble with his children, and so he slurs over their acts of disobedience and selfishness, and tries to please them. But the strong father, who considers the future character and welfare of his children, knows how and when to administer a severe reproof, fully understanding that the few minutes’ pain caused by his rebuke, may save his child from years of suffering as a result of the loose living which is fostered by parental neglect. The strong, kind, unselfish father, whose care is for his children’s good, and not for his own immediate comfort, knows not only how to be tender in affection, but tender in discipline, knows how to stretch out the strong and (to the child at the time) severe arm of restraint to save his little ones when they would ignorantly wander away in wrong paths.
So the man of spiritual strength cannot be merely a weak framer of smooth words, but a doer of right actions, an utterer of words that are vital and true, and, therefore, eternally kind. How crushing must have been the rebuke—" Put up thy sword, Peter," coming, as it did, from the lips of the Master in whose protection the sword was so zealously unsheathed; yet how much kinder when Peter’s eternal welfare is considered (as well as the world’s happiness) than words of praise and encouragement for his action.
The spiritually weak man shrinks from right when it is brought (as by its nature it must be brought) in opposition to his desires, and he embraces sin because it is pleasant. The spiritually strong man shrinks from sin, more especially when it is presented to him in a pleasant garb, and embraces right, even though, by so doing, he will bring upon himself the odium of those who are ignorant of divine principles and their beneficent application.
The man of spiritual understanding is as unbending as a bar of steel where right is concerned, knowing that right alone is good; he is as unresisting as water where self is concerned, knowing that self alone is evil. Acting from imperishable principles and not from the fleeting desires of self, his actions partake of the imperishable nature of the principles from which they spring and continue to afford instruction and inspiration through unnumbered generations.
It is always the portion of one who so acts to be misunderstood. The majority live in their desires and impulses, following them blindly as they are brought into operation by external stimuli, and do not understand what is meant by acting dispassionately from right and fixed principles, with entire freedom from self-interest. Such will necessarily misunderstand and misjudge the right-doer, regarding him as cold or cruel in his unbending adherence to right, or as weak and cowardly in his quiet refusal to passionately defend himself.
He will therefore "be accused of many things," but this will not cause him any suffering, nor will he be troubled or disturbed thereby, for the truth which he practices is a source of perpetual joy, and he will be at rest in the knowledge that there are those who will understand and follow, that he is working for the ultimate good even of his accusers, and that, by manifesting the truth in his daily actions, he is in the company of those divinely strong ones who are leading the world into ways of quietness and peace.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.