That's God-like and true,
A religion the grandest that men
Or that angels can,
Then live, live the truth
Of the brother who taught you,
It's love to God, service and love
To the fellow man.
Social problems are to be among the greatest problems of the generation just moving on to the stage of action. They, above all others, will claim the attention of mankind, as they are already claiming it across the waters even as at home. The attitude of the two classes toward each other, or the separation of the classes, will be by far the chief problem of them all. Already it is imperatively demanding a solution. Gradually, as the years have passed, this separation has been going on, but never so rapidly as of late. Each has come to regard the other as an enemy, with no interests in common, but rather that what is for the interests of the one must necessarily be to the detriment of the other.
The great masses of the people, the working classes, those who as much, if not more than many others ought to be there, are not in our churches today. They already feel that they are not wanted there, and that the Church even is getting to be their enemy. There must be a reason for this, for it is impossible to have an effect without its preceding cause. It is indeed time to waken up to these facts and conditions; for they must be squarely met. A solution is imperatively demanded, and the sooner it comes, the better; for, if allowed to continue thus, all will come back to be paid for, intensified a thousand-fold—ay, to be paid for even by many innocent ones.
Let this great principle of service, helpfulness, love, and self-devotion to the interests of one's fellow men be made the fundamental principle of all lives, and see how simplified these great and all-important questions will become. Indeed, they will almost solve themselves. It is the man all for self, so small and so short sighted that he can't get beyond his own selfish interests, that has done more to bring about this state of affairs than all other causes combined. Let the cause be removed, and then note the results.
For many years it has been a teaching even of political economy that an employer buys his help just as he buys his raw material or any other commodity; and this done, he is in no way responsible for the welfare of those he employs. In fact, the time isn't so far distant when the employed were herded together as animals, and were treated very much as such. But, thanks be to God, a better and a brighter day is dawning. Even the employer is beginning to see that practical ethics, or true Christianity, and business cannot and must not be divorced; that the man he employs, instead of being a mere animal whose services he buys, is, after all his fellow man and his brother, and demands a treatment as such, and that when he fails to recognize this truth, a righteous God steps in, demanding a penalty for its violation.
He is recognizing the fact that whatsoever is for the well-being of the one he employs, that whatever privileges he is enabled to enjoy that will tend to grow and develop his physical, his mental, and his moral life, that will give him an agreeable home and pleasant family relations, that whatever influences tend to elevate him and to make his life more happy, are a direct gain, even from a financial standpoint for himself, by its increasing for him the efficiency of the man's labor. It is already recognized as a fact that the employer who interests himself in these things, other things being equal, is the most successful. Thus the old and the false are breaking away before the right and the true, as all inevitably must sooner or later; and the divinity and the power of the workingman is being ever more fully recognized.
In the very remote history of the race there was one who, violating a great law, having wronged a brother, asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Knowing that he was, he nevertheless deceitfully put the question in this way in his desire, if possible, to avoid the responsibility. Many employers in their selfishness and greed for gain have asked this same question in this same way. They have thought they could thus defeat the sure and eternal laws of a Just Ruler, but have thereby deceived themselves the more. These more than any others have to a great degree brought about the present state of affairs in the industrial and social world.
Just as soon as the employer recognizes the falsity of these old teachings and practices, and the fact that he cannot buy his employee's services the same as he buys his raw material, with no further responsibility, but that the two are on vastly different planes, that his employee is his fellow man and his brother, and that he is his brother's keeper, and will be held responsible as such, that it is to his own highest interests, as well as to the highest interests of those he employs and to society in general, to recognize this; and just as soon as he who is employed fully appreciates his opportunities and makes the highest use of all, and in turn takes an active, personal interest in all that pertains to his employer's welfare—just that soon will a solution of this great question come forth, and no sooner.
It is not so much a question of legislation as of education and right doing, thus a dealing with the individual, and so a prevention and a cure, not merely a suppression and a regulation, which is always sure to fail; for, in a case of right or wrong no question is ever settled finally until it is settled rightly.
The individual, dealing with the individual is necessarily at the bottom of all true social progress. There can't be anything worthy the name without it. The truth will at once be recognized by all that the good of the whole defends upon the good of each, and the good of each makes the good of the whole. Attend, then, to the individual, and the whole will take care of itself. Let each individual work in harmony with every other, and harmony will pervade the whole. The old theory of competition—that in order to have great advancement, great progress, we must have great competition to induce it—is as false as it is savage and detrimental in its nature. We are just reaching that point where the larger men and women are beginning to see its falsity. They are recognizing the fact that, not competition, but cooperation, reciprocity, is the great, the true power—to climb, not by attempting to drag, to keep down one's fellows, but by aiding them, and being in turn aided by them, thus combining, and so multiplying the power of all instead of wasting a large part one against the other.
And grant that a portion do succeed in rising, while the other portion remain in the lower condition, it is of but little value so far as their own peace and welfare are concerned; for they can never be what they would be, were all up together. Each is but a part, a member, of the great civil body; and no member, let alone the entire body, can be perfectly well, perfectly at ease, when any other part is in dis-ease. No one part of the community, no one part of the nation, can stand alone: all are dependent, interdependent. This is the uniform teaching of history from the remotest times in the past right through to the present. A most admirable illustration of this fact—if indeed the word "admirable" can be used in connection with a matter so deplorable—was the unparalleled labor trouble we had in our great Western city but a few summers ago. The wise man is he who learns from experiences of this terrific nature.
No, not until this all-powerful principle is fully recognized, and is built upon so thoroughly that the brotherhood principle, the principle of oneness can enter in, and each one recognizes the fact that his own interests and welfare depend upon the interests, the welfare of each, and therefore of all, that each is but a part of the one great whole, and each one stands shoulder to shoulder in the advance forward, can we hope for any true solution of the great social problems before us, for any permanent elevation of the standard in our national social life and welfare.
This same principle is the solution, and the only true solution, of the charities question, as indeed the whole world during the last few years or so, and during this time only, is beginning to realize. And the splendid and efficient work of the organized charities in all our large cities, as of the Elberfeld system in Germany, is attesting the truth of this. Almost numberless methods have been tried during the past, but all have most successfully failed; and many have greatly increased the wretched condition of matters, and of those it was designed to help. During this length of time only have these all-important questions been dealt with in a true, scientific, Christ-like, common sense way. It has been found even here that nothing can take the place of the personal and friendly influences of a life built upon this principle of service.
The question of aiding the poor and needy has passed through three distinct phases of development in the world's history. In early times it was, "Each one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost." From the time of the Christ, and up to the last few years it has been, "Help others." Now it is, "Help others to help themselves." The wealthy society lady going down Fifth Avenue in New York, or Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or Charles Street in Baltimore, or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, who flings a coin to one asking alms, is not the one who is doing a true act of charity; but, on the other hand, she may be doing the one she thus gives to and to society in general much more harm than good, as is many times the case. It is but a cheap, a very cheap way of buying ease for her sympathetic nature or her sense of duty. Never let the word "charity," which always includes the elements of interested service, true helpfulness, kindliness, and love, be debased by making it a synonym of mere giving, which may mean the flinging of a quarter in scorn or for show.
Recognizing the great truth that the best and only way to help another is to help him to help himself, and that the neglected classes need not so much alms as friends, the Organized Charities with their several branches in different parts of the city have their staffs of "friendly visitors," almost all voluntary, and from some of the best homes in the land. Then when a case of need comes to the notice of the society, one of these goes to the person or family as a friend to investigate, to find what circumstances have brought about these conditions, and, if found worthy of aid, present needs are supplied, an effort is made to secure work, and every effort is made to put them on their feet again, that self-respect may be regained, that hope may enter in; for there is scarcely anything that tends to make one lose his self-respect so quickly and so completely as to be compelled, or of his own accord, to ask for alms.
It is thus many times that a new life is entered upon, brightness and hope taking the place of darkness and despair. This is not the only call the friendly visitor makes; but he or she becomes a true friend, and makes regular visits as such. If by this method the one seeking charity is found to be an impostor, as is frequently the case, proper means of exposure are resorted to, that his or her progress in this course may be stopped. The organizations are thus doing a most valuable work, and one that will become more and more valuable as they are enabled to become better organized, the greatest need today being more with the true spirit to act as visiting friends.
It is this same great principle that has given birth to our college and university settlements and our neighborhood guilds which are so rapidly increasing, and which are destined to do a great and efficient work. Here a small colony of young women, many from our best homes, and the ablest graduates of our best colleges, and young men, many of them the ablest graduates of our best universities, take up their abode in the poorest parts of our large cities, to try by their personal influence and personal contact to raise the surrounding life to a higher plane. It is in these ways that the poor and the unfortunate are dealt with directly. Thus the classes mingle. Thus that sentimentalism which may do and which has done harm to these great problems, and by which the people it is designed to help may be hindered rather than helped, is done away with. Thus true aid and service are rendered, and the needy are really helped.
The one whose life is built upon this principle will not take up work of this kind as a "fad," or because it is "fashionable," but because it is right, true, Christ-like. The truly great and noble never fear thus to mingle with those poorer and less fortunate. It is only those who would like to be counted as great, but who are too small to be so recognized, and who, therefore, always thinking of self, put forth every effort to appear so. There is no surer test than this.
Very truly has it been said that "the greatest thing a man can do for God is to be kind to some of His other children." All children of the same Father, therefore all brothers, sisters. Man is next to God. Man is God incarnate. Humanity, therefore, cannot be very far from being next to godliness. Many people there are who are greatly concerned about serving God, as they term it. Their idea is to build great edifices with costly ornaments to Him. A great deal of their time is spent in singing songs and hallelujahs to Him, just as if He needed or wanted these for Himself, forgetting that He is far above being benefited by anything that we can say or do, forgetting that He doesn't want these, when for lack of them some of His children are starving for bread to eat or are dying for the bread of life.
Can you conceive of a God who is worthy of love and service—and I speak most reverently—who under such conditions would take a satisfaction in these things? I confess I am not able to. I can conceive of no way in which I can serve God only as I serve Him through my own life and through the lives of my fellow men. This, certainly, is the only kind of service He needs or wants, or that is acceptable to Him. At one place we read, "He that says he loves God and loves not his fellow men, is a liar; and the truth is not in him."
Even in religion I think we shall find that there is nothing greater or more important than this great principle of service, helpfulness, kindliness, and love. Is not Christianity, you ask, greater or more important? Why, bless you, is this any other than Christianity, is Christianity any other than this—at least, if we take what the Master Teacher himself has said? For what, let us ask, is a Christian—the real, not merely in name? A follower of Christ, one who does as he did, one who lives as he lived. And, again, who was Christ? He that healed the sick, clothed the naked, bound up the broken-hearted, sustained and encouraged the weak, the faltering, befriended and aided the poor, the needy, condemned the proud and the selfish, taught the people to live nobly, truly, grandly, to live in their higher, diviner selves, that the greatest among them should be their servant, and that his followers were those who lived as he lived. He spent all his time in the service of humanity. He gave his whole life in this way. He it was who went about doing good.
Is it your desire then, to be numbered among his followers, to bear that blessed name, the name "Christian"? Then sit at his feet, and learn of him, love him, do as he did, as he taught you to do, live as he lived, as he taught you to live, and you are a Christian, and not unless you do. True Christianity can be found in no other way.
Naught is the difference what one may call himself; for many call themselves by this name to whom Christ says it will one day be said, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye cursed." Naught is the difference what creeds one may subscribe to, what rites and ceremonies he may observe, how loud and how numerous his professions may be. All of these are but as a vain mockery, unless he is a Christian; and to be a Christian is, as we have found, to be a follower of Christ, to do as he did, to live as he lived. Then live the Christ life. Live so as to become at one with God, and dwell continually in this blessed at-one-ment. The trouble all along has been that so many have mistaken the mere person of the Christ, the mere physical Jesus, for his life, his spirit, his teachings, and have succeeded in getting no farther than this as yet, except in cases here and there.
Now and then a rare soul rises up, one with great power, great inspiration, and we wonder at his great power, his great inspiration, why it is. When we look deeply enough, however, we will find that one great fact will answer the question every time. It is living the life that brings the power. He is living the Christ life, not merely standing afar off and looking at it, admiring it, and saying, Yes, I believe, I believe, and ending it there. In other words, he has found the kingdom of heaven. He has found that it is not a place, but a condition; and the song continually arising from his heart is, There is joy, only joy.
The Master, you remember, said: "Seek ye not for the kingdom of heaven in tabernacles or in houses made with hands. Know ye not that the kingdom of heaven is within you?" He told in plain words where and how to find it. He then told how to find all other things, when he said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all these other things shall be added unto you." Now, do you wonder at his power, his inspiration, his abundance of all things? The trouble with so many is that they act as if they do not believe what the Master said. They do not take him at his word. They say one thing: they do another. Their acts give the lie to their words. Instead of taking him at his word, and living as if they had faith in him, they prefer to follow a series of old, outgrown, man made theories, traditions, forms, ceremonies, and seem to be satisfied with the results. No, to be a Christian is to live the Christ life, the life of him who went about doing good, the life of him who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
We will find that this mighty principle of love and service is the greatest to live by in this life, and also one of the gates whereby all who would must enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again we have the Master's words. In his own and only description of the last judgment, after speaking of the Son of Man coming in all his glory and all the holy angels with him, of his sitting on the throne of his glory with all nations gathered before him, of the separation of this gathered multitude into two parts, the one on his right, the other on his left, he says: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee ? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee ? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee ? And the King shall answer, and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
"Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."
After spending the greater portion of his life in many distant climes in a fruitless endeavor to find the Cup of the Holy Grail thinking that thereby he was doing the greatest service he could for God, Sir Launfal at last returns an old man, gray-haired and bent. He finds that his castle is occupied by others, and that he himself is an outcast. His cloak is torn; and instead of the charger in gilded trappings he was mounted upon when as a young man, he started out with great hopes and ambitions, he is afoot and leaning on a staff. While sitting there and meditating, he is met by the same poor and needy leper he passed the morning he started, the one who in his need asked for aid, and to whom he had flung a coin in scorn, as he hurried on in his eager desire to be in the Master's service. But matters are changed now, and he is a wiser man. Again the poor leper says:—
The happy camels may reach the spring,
But Sir Launfal sees only the gruesome thing,
The leper, lank as the rain-blanched bone,
That cowers beside him, a thing as lone
And white as the ice-isles of Northern seas
In the desolate horror of his disease.
And Sir Launfal said: 'I behold in thee
An image of Him who died on the tree;
Thou also hast had thy crown of thorns,
Thou also hast had the world's buffets and scorns,
And to thy life were not denied
The wounds in the hands and feet and side:
Mild Mary's Son, acknowledge me;
Behold, through him, I give to thee!'
Then the soul of the leper stood up in his eyes
And looked at Sir Launfal, and straightway be
Remembered in what a haughtier guise
He had flung an alms to leprosy,
When he girt his young life up in gilded mail
And set forth in search of the Holy Grail.
The heart within him was ashes and dust;
He parted in twain his single crust,
He broke the ice on the streamlet's brink,
And gave the leper to eat and drink,
'Twas a mouldy crust of coarse brown bread,
'Twas water out of a wooden bowl,
Yet with fine wheaten bread was the leper fed,
And 'twas red wine he drank with his thirsty soul.
As Sir Launfal mused with a downcast face,
A light shone round about the place;
The leper no longer crouched at his side,
But stood before him glorified,
Shining and tall and fair and straight
As the pillar that stood by the Beautiful Gate,
Himself the Gate whereby men can
Enter the temple of God in Man.
And the voice that was calmer than silence said,
'Lo, it is I, be not afraid!
In many climes, without avail,
Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail;
Behold, it is here—this cup which thou
Didst fill at the streamlet for me but now;
This crust is my body broken for thee,
This water His blood that died on the tree;
The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
In whatso we share with another's need;
Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.'
—From "The Vision of Sir Launfal" by James Russell Lowell
The fear is sometimes entertained, and the question is sometimes asked, may not adherence to this principle of helpfulness and service become mere sentimentalism? or still more, may it not be the means of lessening another's sense of self-dependence, and thus may it not at times do more harm than good? In reply let it be said: If the love which impels it be a selfish love, or a weak sentimental ism, or an effort at show, or devoid of good common sense, yes, many times. But if it be a strong, genuine, unselfish love, then no, never. For, if my love for my fellow man be the true love, I can never do anything that will be to his or any one's else detriment—nothing that will not redound to his highest ultimate welfare. Should he, for example come and ask of me a particular favor, and were it clear to me that granting it would not be for his highest good ultimately, then love at once resolves itself into duty, and compels me to forbear. A true, genuine, unselfish love for one's fellow man will never prompt, and much less permit, anything that will not result in his highest ultimate good. Adherence, therefore, to this great principle in its truest sense, instead of being a weak sentimentalism, is, we shall find, of all practical things the most intensely practical.
And a word here in regard to the test of true love and service, in distinction from its semblance for show or for vain glory. The test of the true is this: that it goes about and does its good work, it never says anything about it, but lets others do the saying. It not only says nothing about it, but more, it has no desire to have it known; and, the truer it is, the greater the desire to have it unknown save to God and its own true self. In other words, it is not sicklied o'er with a semi-insane desire for notoriety or vainglory, and hence never weakens itself nor harasses any one else by lengthy recitals of its good deeds. It is not the professional good-doing. It is simply living its natural life, open-minded, open-hearted, doing each day what its hands find to do, and in this finding its own true life and joy. And in this way it unintentionally but irresistibly draws to itself a praise the rarest and divinest I know of—the praise I heard given but a day or two ago to one who is living simply his own natural life without any conscious effort at anything else, the praise contained in the words: And, oh, it is beautiful, the great amount of good he does and of which the world never hears.
More from 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.