—Jesus in Mathew 7:14
—Jesus in Mathew 12:35 (see also Luke 6:45)
The supreme aim of all religions is to teach men how to live; and the learning and the living are religion itself. The purification of the human heart, the building up of a blameless life, and the perfecting of the soul, these are the great underlying and enduring factors in all religions and creeds the world over. That which is vital in every religion is the striving after, and the practice of, Goodness; all things else are accretions, superfluities, illusions. Goodness—and by Goodness I mean sinlessness—is the beautiful and imperishable form of Religion, but creeds and religions are the perishable garments, woven of the threads of opinion, in which men clothe it. One after another religions come and go, but Religion, being Life itself, endures forever.
Let men cease to quarrel over the garments and strive to perceive the universality and beauty of the indwelling form; thus will they become wedded to it, will become one with the supreme Goodness. Religion is Goodness; Goodness is Religion.
We know nothing higher than Goodness. We can conceive of nothing more beautiful than Goodness. Beholding the Perfect Goodness, men call it God. Seeing that Goodness practiced by man, men worship him as God.
We behold Jesus as a sinless man; in him is the Perfect Goodness revealed, not obscurely and metaphysically, but in all his words and deeds; and it is by virtue of his sinlessness that he is accepted as an exemplar and universal Teacher.
The Teachers of mankind are few. A thousand years may pass by without the advent of such a one; but when the True Teacher does appear, the distinguishing feature by which he is known is his life. His conduct is different from that of other men, and his teaching is never derived from any man or book, but from his own life. The Teacher first lives, and then teaches others how they may likewise live. The proof and witness of his teaching is in himself, his life. Out of millions of preachers, one only is ultimately accepted by mankind as the true Teacher, and the one who is thus accepted and exalted is he who lives. All the others are mere disquisitionaries and commentators, and as such they rapidly pass out of human ken.
Jesus, the Teacher, lived, in all its perfection, and in the face of the most adverse conditions, the divine life of Love; he pursued the true life of Goodwill, as distinguished from the false life of self-seeking, which the majority elects to follow. In him there was no element of selfishness, all his thoughts, words and acts being prompted by the spirit of Love. To this spirit of Love he so entirely subjected his personality that he became one with it, so much so that he literally became Divine Love personified. His complete victory over the personality was accomplished by obedience to the Divine Law of Love within himself, by virtue of which he became divine, and his whole teaching is to the effect that all who practice the same obedience will realize the same divine Life, will become consciously divine.
The unalterable meekness, undying compassion, sweet forgiveness, and unending love and patience of Jesus are the themes of a thousand hymns, the subject of millions of heartfelt prayers; and this is so because those qualities are recognized everywhere and by all men as being distinctively divine. To make the practice of these qualities the chief object of life constitutes Religion! to deny them and to continue to live in their selfish opposites—pride, condemnation, harshness, hatred, and anger—constitutes irreligion.
Men everywhere, in their inmost hearts though they may deny it argumentatively, know that Goodness is divine; and Jesus is worshiped as God, not for any claim he made, nor because of any miraculous circumstance connected with his life, but because he never departed from the Perfect Goodness, the Faultless Love. "God is Love," Love is God. Man knows no God except Love manifesting in the human heart and life in the form of stainless thoughts, blameless words, and deeds of gentle pity and forgiveness, and he can only know this God in the measure that he has realized Love in his own heart by self-subjugation. The God which forms the subject of theological argument, and whose existence or non-existence men are so eager to prove, is the God of hypothesis and speculation. He, who, by overcoming self, has found, dwelling within him, the Supreme Love, knows what that Love is far beyond the reach of all selfish argument, and can only be lived; and he lives, leaving vain argument to those who will not come up higher.
Having by obedience, entered into full possession of the Divine Life, Jesus gave to the world certain spiritual rules, by the observance of which all men could become sons of God, could live the Perfect Life. These rules or precepts are so simple, direct, and unmistakable that it is impossible to misunderstand them. So plain and unequivocal are they that even an unlettered child could grasp their meaning without difficulty. All of them are directly related to human conduct and can be applied only by the individual in his own life. To carry out the spirit of these rules in one's daily conduct constitutes the whole duty of life, and lifts the individual into the full consciousness of his divine origin and nature, of his oneness with God, the Supreme Good. It is here, however, where the difficulty arises, for, although there are millions of men and women worshiping Jesus as God in a miraculous or metaphysical sense, there are really very few who believe in his precepts, and who attempt to carry them out in their life. In the precepts themselves there can be no difficulty or misunderstanding; all this lies in the unbelief of those who read the precepts. Men do not carry out the precepts of Jesus because they do not believe it possible to do so, and so they never try; whilst there are others who, believing it possible and necessary to carry them out, are not willing to make the personal sacrifices which those precepts demand. Yet, apart from the earnest striving to live out the teachings of Jesus there can be no true life. To merely call Jesus "Lord" does not constitute discipleship, but to weave his words into the fabric of one's life, to put into execution his divine and self perfecting precepts, this, and this only, constitutes discipleship.
Let it be understood thus early that with the almost innumerable creeds which have been built upon the Hebrew Scriptures, I have absolutely nothing to do. I have to do entirely with the life and teaching of Jesus, and with the vital realities in the human heart to which that teaching is directed. I have to do with Goodness, not with speculation; with Love, not with theological theories; with self-perfection, not with fleeting opinions.
Jesus was a supremely good man; this all men know, and to know this is all embracing and all sufficient. He has left precepts which, if a man will guide his conduct by them, will lead him unerringly to the Supreme Goodness; to know this is gladdening and glorious.
A good man is the flower of humanity, and to daily grow purer, nobler, more Godlike, by overcoming some selfish tendency, is to be continually drawing nearer to the Divine Heart. "He that would be my disciple let him deny himself daily," is a statement which none can misunderstand or misapply, howsoever he may ignore it. Nowhere in the universe is there any substitute for Goodness, and until a man has this, he has nothing worthy or enduring. To the possession of Goodness there is only one way, and that is, to give up all and everything that is opposed to Goodness. Every selfish desire must be eradicated; every impure thought must be yielded up; every clinging to opinion must be sacrificed; and it is in the doing of this that constitutes the following of Christ. That which is above all creeds, beliefs and opinions is a loving and self-sacrificing heart. The life of Jesus is a demonstration of this truth, and all His teaching is designed to bring about this holy and supreme consummation.
To dwell in love always and towards all is to live the true life, is to have Life itself. Jesus so lived and all men may so live if they will humbly and faithfully carry out his precepts. So long as they refuse to do this, clinging to their desires, passions and opinions, they cannot be ranked as his disciples; they are the disciples of self. "Verily, verily, I say unto you: whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin," is the searching declaration of Jesus. Let men cease to delude themselves with the belief that they can retain their bad tempers, their lusts, their harsh words and judgments, their personal hatreds, their petty contentions and darling opinions, and yet have Christ. All that divides man from man, and man from Goodness is not of Christ, for Christ is Love.
To continue to commit sin is to be a doer of sin, a follower of self, and not a doer of righteousness and a follower of Christ. Sin and Christ cannot dwell together, and he who accepts the Christ life of pure Goodness, ceases from sin. To follow Christ means to give up all, in our mind and conduct, that antagonizes the spirit of Love, and this, we shall find as we proceed, necessitates complete self-surrender, refusing to harbor any thought that is not pure, compassionate and gentle. The Christ-spirit of Love puts an end, not only to all sin, but to all division and contention. If I contend for an opinion, say, about the divinity of Jesus Christ, against the opinion of another as to his non-divinity, I at once create division and strife, and depart from the Christ, the spirit of Love. When Christ is disputed about, Christ is lost.
It is no less selfish and sinful to cling to opinion than to cling to impure desire. Knowing this, the good man gives up himself unreservedly to the spirit of Love, and dwells in Love towards all, contending with none, condemning none, hating none, but loving all, seeing behind their opinions, their creeds and their sins, into their striving, suffering and sorrowing hearts. "He that loveth his life shall lose it." Eternal Life belongs to him who will obediently relinquish his petty, narrowing, sin-loving, strife producing personal self, for only by so doing can he enter into the large, beautiful, free and glorious life of abounding Love. Herein is the Path of Life; for the strait Gate is the Gate of Goodness, and the narrow Way is the Way of Renunciation, or self-sacrifice. So strait is the Gate that no sin can pass through, and so narrow is the Way that he who essays to walk it can take with him no selfish thought as his companion.
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.