The life of the Spirit, or, in other words, the true religious life, is not a life of mere contemplation or a life of inactivity. As Fichte, in "The Way Toward the Blessed Life," has said: "True religion, notwithstanding that it raises the view of those who are inspired by it to its own region, nevertheless, retains their Life firmly in the domain of action, and of right moral action.... Religion is not a business by and for itself which a man may practice apart from his other occupations, perhaps on certain fixed days and hours; but it is the inmost spirit that penetrates, inspires, and pervades all our Thought and Action, which in other respects pursue their appointed course without change or interruption. That the Divine Life and Energy actually lives in us is inseparable from Religion."
How thoroughly this is in keeping with the thought of the highly illumined seer, Swedenborg, is indicated when he says: "The Lord's Kingdom is a Kingdom of ends and uses." And again: "Forsaking the world means loving God and the neighbor; and God is loved when a man lives according to His commandments, and the neighbor is loved when a man performs uses." And still again: "To be of use means to desire the welfare of others for the sake of the common good; and not to be of use means to desire the welfare of others not for the sake of the common good but for one's own sake.... In order that man may receive heavenly life he must live in the world and engage in its business and occupations, and thus by a moral and civil life acquire spiritual life. In no other way can spiritual life be generated in man, or his spirit be prepared for heaven."
We hear much today both in various writings and in public utterances of "the spiritual" and "the spiritual life." I am sure that to the great majority of men and women the term spiritual, or better, the spiritual life, means something, but something by no means fully tangible or clear-cut. I shall be glad indeed if I am able to suggest a more comprehensible concept of it, or putting it in another form and better perhaps, to present a more clear-cut portraiture of the spiritual life in expression—in action.
And first let us note that in the mind and in the teachings of Jesus there is no such thing as the secular life and the religious life. His ministry pertained to every phase of life. The truth that he taught was a truth that was to permeate every thought and every act of life.
We make our arbitrary divisions. We are too apt to deny the fact that the Lord is the Lord of the week-day, the same as He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus refused to be bound by any such consideration. He taught that every act that is a good act, every act that is of service to mankind is not only a legitimate act to be done on the Sabbath day, but an act that should be performed on the Sabbath day. And any act that is not right and legitimate for the Sabbath day is neither right nor legitimate for the week-day. In other words, it is the spirit of righteousness that must permeate and must govern every act of life and every moment of life.
In seeking to define the spiritual life, it were better to regard the world as the expression of the Divine mind. The spirit is the life; the world and all things in it, the material to be molded, raised, and transmuted from the lower to the higher. This is indeed the law of evolution, that has been through all the ages and that today is at work. It is the God-Power that is at work and every form of useful activity that helps on with this process of lifting and bettering is a form of Divine activity. If therefore we recognize the one Divine life working in and through all, the animating force, therefore the Life of all, and if we are consciously helping in this process we are spiritual men.
No man of intelligence can fail to recognize the fact that life is more important than things. Life is the chief thing, and material things are the elements that minister to, that serve the purposes of the life. Whoever does anything in the world to preserve life, to better its conditions, who, recognizing the Divine force at work lifting life up always to better, finer conditions, is doing God's work in the world—because cooperating with the great Cosmic world plan.
The ideal, then, is men and women of the spirit, open and responsive always to its guidance, recognizing the Divine plan and the Divine ideal, working cooperatively in the world to make all conditions of life fairer, finer, more happy. He who lives and works not as an individual, that is not for his good alone, but who recognizes the essential oneness of life—is carrying out his share of the Divine plan.
A man may be unusually gifted; he may have unusual ability in business, in administration; he may be a giant in finance, in administration, but if for self alone, if lack of vision blinds him to the great Divine plan, if he does not recognize his relative place and value; if he gains his purposes by selfishness, by climbing over others, by indifference to human pain or suffering—oblivious to human welfare—his ways are the ways of the jungle. His mind and his life are purely sordid, grossly and blindly self-centered—wholly material. He gains his object, but by Divine law not happiness, not satisfaction, not peace. He is outside the Kingdom of Heaven—the kingdom of harmony. He is living and working out of harmony with the Divine mind that is evolving a higher order of life in the world. He is blind too, he is working against the Divine plan.
Now what is the Divine call? Can he be made into a spiritual man? Yes. A different understanding, a different motive, a different object—then will follow a difference in methods. Instead of self alone he will have a sense of, he will have a call to service. And this man, formerly a hinderer in the Divine plan, becomes a spiritual giant. His splendid powers and his qualities do not need to be changed. Merely his motives and thereby his methods, and he is changed into a giant engine of righteousness. He is a part of the great world force and plan. He is doing his part in the great world work—he is a coworker with God. And here lies salvation. Saved from self and the dwarfed and stunted condition that will follow, his spiritual nature unfolds and envelops his entire life. His powers and his wealth are thereafter to bless mankind. But behold! by another great fundamental law of life in doing this he is blessed ten, a hundred, a million-fold.
Material prosperity is or may become a true gain, a veritable blessing. But it can become a curse to the world and still more to its possessor when made an end in itself, and at the expense of all the higher attributes and powers of human life.
We have reason to rejoice that a great change of estimate has not only begun but is now rapidly creeping over the world. He of even a generation ago who piled and piled, but who remained ignorant of the more fundamental laws of life, blind to the law of mutuality and service, would be regarded today as a low, beastly type. I speak advisedly. It is this obedience to the life of the spirit that Whitman had in mind when he said: "And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud." It was the full flowering of the law of mutuality and service that he saw when he said: "I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth. I dream'd that it was the new City of Friends. Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love; it led the rest. It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city and in all their looks and words." It is through obedience to this life of the spirit that order is brought out of chaos in the life of the individual and in the life of the community, in the business world, the labor world, and in our great world relations.
But in either case, we men and women of Christendom, to be a Christian is not only to be good, but to be good for something. According to the teachings of the Master true religion is not only personal salvation, but it is giving one's self through all of one's best efforts to actualize the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. The finding of the Kingdom is not only personal but social and world-affirming—and in the degree that it becomes fully and vitally personal will it become so.
A man who is not right with his fellow-men is not right and cannot be right with God. This is coming to be the clear-cut realization of all progressive religious thought today. Since men are free from the trammels of an enervating dogma that through fear made them seek, or rather that made them contented with religion as primarily a system of rewards and punishments, they are now awakening to the fact that the logical carrying out of Jesus' teaching of the Kingdom is the establishing here on this earth of an order of life and hence of a society where greater love and cooperation and justice prevail. Our rapidly growing present-day conception of Christianity makes it not world-renouncing, but world-affirming.
This modern conception of the function of a true and vital Christianity makes it the task of the immediate future to apply Christianity to trade, to commerce, to labor relations, to all social relations, to international relations. "And, in the wider field of religious thought," says a writer in a great international religious paper, "what truer service can we render than to strip theology of all that is unreal or needlessly perplexing, and make it speak plainly and humanly to people who have their duty to do and their battle to fight?" It makes intelligent, sympathetic, and helpful living take the place of the tooth and the claw, the growl and the deadly hiss of the jungle—all right in their places, but with no place in human living.
The growing realization of the interdependence of all life is giving a new standard of action and attainment, and a new standard of estimate. Jesus' criterion is coming into more universal appreciation: He that is greatest among you shall be as he who serves. Through this fundamental law of life there are responsibilities that cannot be evaded or shirked—and of him to whom much is given much is required.
It was President Wilson who recently said: "It is to be hoped that these obvious truths will come to more general acceptance; that honest business will quit thinking that it is attacked when loaded-dice business is attacked; that the mutuality of interest between employer and employee will receive ungrudging admission; and, finally, that men of affairs will lend themselves more patriotically to the work of making democracy an efficient instrument for the promotion of human welfare. It cannot be said that they have done so in the past.... As a consequence, many necessary things have been done less perfectly without their assistance that could have been done more perfectly with their expert aid." He is by no means alone in recognizing this fact. Nor is he at all blind to the great change that is already taking place.
In a recent public address in New York, the head of one of the largest plants in the world, and who starting with nothing has accumulated a fortune of many millions, said: "The only thing I am proud of—prouder of than that I have amassed a great fortune—is that I established the first manual training school in Pennsylvania. The greatest delight of my life is to see the advancement of the young men who have come up about me."
This growing sense of personal responsibility, and still better, of personal interest, this giving of one's abilities and one's time, in addition to one's means , is the beginning of the fulfilment of what I have long thought: namely, the great gain that will accrue to numberless communities and to the nation, when men of great means, men of great business and executive ability, give of their time and their abilities for the accomplishment of those things for the public welfare that otherwise would remain undone, or that would remain unduly delayed. What a gain will result also to those who so do in the joy and satisfaction resulting from this higher type of accomplishment hallowed by the undying element of human service!
You keep silent too much. "Have great leaders, and the rest will follow," said Whitman. The gift of your abilities while you live would be of priceless worth for the establishing and the maintenance of a fairer, a healthier, and a sweeter life in your community, your city, your country. It were better to do this and to be contented with a smaller accumulation than to have it so large or even so excessive, and when the summons comes to leave it to two or three or to half a dozen who cannot possibly have good use for it all, and some of whom perchance would be far better off without it, or without so much. By so doing you would be leaving something still greater to them as well as to hundreds or thousands of others.
Significant in this connection are these words by a man of wealth and of great public service:
"On the whole, the individualistic age has not been a success, either for the individual, or the community in which he has lived, or the nation. We are, beyond question, entering on a period where the welfare of the community takes precedence over the interests of the individual and where the liberty of the individual will be more and more circumscribed for the benefit of the community as a whole. Man's activities will hereafter be required to be not only for himself but for his fellow-men. To my mind there is nothing in the signs of the times so certain as this.
"The man of exceptional ability, of more than ordinary talent, will hereafter look for his rewards, for his honors, not in one direction but in two—first, and foremost, in some public work accomplished, and, secondarily, in wealth acquired. In place of having it said of him at his death that he left so many hundred thousand dollars it will be said that he rendered a certain amount of public service, and, incidentally, left a certain amount of money. Such a goal will prove a far greater satisfaction to him, he will live a more rational, worthwhile life, and he will be doing his share to provide a better country in which to live. We face new conditions, and in order to survive and succeed we shall require a different spirit of public service."
I am well aware of the fact that the mere accumulation of wealth is not, except in very rare cases, the controlling motive in the lives of our wealthy men of affairs. It is rather the joy and the satisfaction of achievement. But nevertheless it is possible, as has so often proved, to get so much into a habit and thereby into a rut, that one becomes a victim of habit; and the life with all its superb possibilities of human service, and therefore of true greatness, becomes side-tracked and abortive.
There are so many different lines of activity for human betterment for children, for men and women, that those of great executive and financial ability have wonderful opportunities. Greatness comes always through human service. As there is no such thing as finding happiness by searching for it directly, so there is no such thing as achieving greatness by seeking it directly. It comes not primarily through brilliant intellect, great talents, but primarily through the heart. It is determined by the way that brilliant intellect, great talents are used. It is accorded not to those who seek it directly. By an indirect law it is accorded to those who, forgetting self, give and thereby lose their lives in human service.
Both poet and prophet is Edwin Markham when he says:
We men of earth have here the stuff
Of Paradise—we have enough!
We need no other stones to build
The stairs into the Unfulfilled—
No other ivory for the doors—
No other marble for the floors—
No other cedar for the beam
And dome of man's immortal dream.
Here on the paths of every day—
Here on the common human way,
Is all the stuff the gods would take
To build a Heaven; to mold and make new Edens.
Ours the stuff sublime
To build Eternity in time!
This putting of divinity into life and raising thereby an otherwise sordid life up to higher levels and thereby to greater enjoyments, is the power that is possessed equally by those of station and means, and by those in the more humble or even more lowly walks of life.
When your life is thus touched by the spirit of God, when it is ruled by this inner Kingdom, when your constant prayer, as the prayer of every truly religious man or woman will be—Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? My one desire is that Thy will be my will, and therefore that Thy will be done in me and through me—then you are living the Divine life; you are a coworker with God. And whether your life according to accepted standards be noted or humble it makes no difference—you are fulfilling your Divine mission. You should be, you cannot help being fearless and happy. You are a part of the great creative force in the world.
You are doing a man's or a woman's work in the world, and in so doing you are not unimportant; you are essential. The joy of true accomplishment is yours. You can look forward always with sublime courage and expectancy. The life of the most humble can thus become an exalted life. Mother, watching over, cleaning, feeding, training, and educating your brood; seamstress, working, with a touch of the Divine in all you do—it must be done by someone—allow it to be done by none better than by you. Farmer, tilling your soil, gathering your crops, caring for your herds; you are helping feed the world. There is nothing more important.
"Who digs a well, or plants a seed,
A sacred pact he keeps with sun and sod;
With these he helps refresh and feed
The world, and enters partnership with God."
If you do not allow yourself to become a slave to your work, and if you cooperate within the house and the home so that your wife and your daughters do not become slaves or near-slaves, what an opportunity is yours of high thinking and noble living! The more intelligent you become, the better read, the greater the interest you take in community and public affairs, the more effectively you become what in reality and jointly you are—the backbone of this and of every nation. Teacher, poet, dramatist, carpenter, ironworker, clerk, college head, Mayor, Governor, President, Ruler—the effectiveness of your work and the satisfaction in your work will be determined by the way in which you relate your thought and your work to the Divine plan, and coordinate your every activity in reference to the highest welfare of the greater whole.
However dimly or clearly we may perceive it great changes are taking place. The simple, direct teachings of the Christ are reaching more and more the mind, are stirring the heart and through these are dominating the actions of increasing numbers of men and women. The realization of the mutual interdependence of the human family, the realization of its common source, and that when one part of it goes wrong all suffer thereby, the same as when any portion of it advances all are lifted and benefited thereby, makes us more eager for the more speedy actualizing of the Kingdom that the Master revealed and portrayed.
It was Sir Oliver Lodge who in this connection recently said: "Those who think that the day of the Messiah is over are strangely mistaken; it has hardly begun. In individual souls Christianity has flourished and borne fruit, but for the ills of the world itself it is an almost untried panacea. It will be strange if this ghastly war fosters and simplifies and improves a knowledge of Christ, and aids a perception of the ineffable beauty of his life and teaching; yet stranger things have happened, and whatever the churches may do, I believe that the call of Christ himself will be heard and attended to by a larger part of humanity in the near future, as never yet it has been heard or attended to on earth."
The simple message of the Christ, with its twofold injunction of Love, is, when sufficiently understood and sufficiently heeded, all that we men of earth need to lift up, to beautify, to make strong and Godlike individual lives and thereby and of necessity the life of the world. Jesus never taught that God incarnated Himself in him alone. I challenge any man living to find any such teaching by him. He did proclaim his own unique realization of God. Intuitively and vividly he perceived the Divine life, the eternal Word, the eternal Christ, manifesting in his clean, strong, upright soul, so that the young Jewish rabbi and prophet, known in all his community as Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary and whose brothers and sisters they knew so well, became the firstborn—fully born—of the Father.
He then pleaded with all the energy and love and fervor of his splendid heart and vigorous manhood that all men should follow the Way that he revealed and realize their Divine Sonship, that their lives might be redeemed—redeemed from the bondage of the bodily senses and the bondage of merely the things of the outer world, and saved as fit subjects of and workers in the Father's Kingdom. Otherwise for millions of splendid earnest men and women today his life-message would have no meaning.
To make men awake to their real identity, and therefore to their possibilities and powers as true sons of God, the Father of all, and therefore that all men are brothers—for otherwise God is not Father of all—and to live together in brotherly love and mutual cooperation whereby the Divine will becomes done on earth as it is in heaven—this is his message to we men of earth. If we believe his message and accept his leadership, then he becomes indeed our elder brother who leads the way, the Word in us becomes flesh, the Christ becomes enthroned in our lives,—and we become co-workers with him in the Father's vineyard.
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More Articles by This Author Ralph Waldo Trine
- Lived from September 6th, 1866 to February, 22nd 1958
- Born in Mt. Morris, Illinois
- Most popular book is In Tune With the Infinite
- Was an early leader in the New Thought movement.