And make life one long joy and contentment complete,
Then with kindliness, love, and good will let it teem,
And with service for all make it fully replete.
And that love with its power would you fully convince,
Then love all the world; and men royal and true,
Will make cry as you pass—"God bless him, the prince!
One beautiful feature of this principle of love and service is that this phase of one's personality, or nature, can be grown. I have heard it asked, If one hasn't it to any marked degree naturally, what is to be done? In reply let it be said, Forget self, get out of it for a little while, and, as it comes in your way, do something for some one, some kind service, some loving favor, it makes no difference how small it may appear. But a kind look or word to one weary with care, from whose life all worth living for seems to have gone out; a helping hand or little lift to one almost discouraged—it may be that this is just the critical moment, a helping hand just now may change a life or a destiny. Show yourself a friend to one who thinks he or she is friendless.
Oh, there are a thousand opportunities each day right where you are—not the great things far away, but the little things right at hand. With a heart full of love do something: experience the rich returns that will come to you, and it will be unnecessary to urge a repetition or a continuance. The next time it will be easier and more natural, and the next. You know of that wonderful reflex-nerve system you have in your body—that which says that whenever you do a certain thing in a certain way, it is easier to do the same thing the next time, and the next, and the next, until presently it is done with scarcely any effort on your part at all, it has become your second nature. And thus we have what? Habit. This is the way that all habit is, the way that all habit must be formed. And have you ever fully realized that life is, after all, merely a series of habits, and that it lies entirely within one's own power to determine just what that series shall be?
I have seen this great principle made the foundation principle in an institution of learning. It is made not a theory merely as I have seen it here and there, but a vital, living truth. And I wish I had time to tell of its wonderful and beautiful influences upon the life and work of that institution, and upon the lives and the work of those who go out from it. A joy indeed to be there. One can't enter within its walls even for a few moments without feeling its benign influences. One can't go out without taking them with him. I have seen purposes and lives almost or quite transformed; and life so rich, so beautiful, and so valuable opened up, such as the persons never dreamed could be, by being but a single year under these beautiful and life-giving influences.
I have also seen it made the foundation principle of a great summer congress, one that has already done an unprecedented work, one that has a far greater work yet before it, and chiefly by reason of this all-powerful foundation upon which it is built—conceived and put into operation as it was by a rare and highly illumined soul, one thoroughly filled with the love of service for all the human kind. There are no thoughts of money returns, for everything it has to give is as free as the beautiful atmosphere that pervades it. The result is that there is drawn together, by way of its magnificent corps of lectures as well as those in attendance, a company of people of the rarest type, so that everywhere there is a manifestation of that spirit of love, helpfulness, and kindliness, that permeates the entire atmosphere with a deep feeling of peace, that makes every moment of life a joy.
So enchanting does this spirit make the place that very frequently the single day of some who have come for this length of time has lengthened itself into a week, and the week in turn into a month; and the single week of others has frequently lengthened itself, first into a month, then into the entire summer. There is nothing at all strange in this fact, however; for wherever one finds sweet humanity, he there finds a spot where all people love to dwell.
Making this the fundamental principle of one's life, around which all others properly arrange and subordinate themselves, is not, as a casual observer might think, and as he sometimes suggests, an argument against one's own growth and development, against the highest possible unfoldment of his entire personality and powers. Rather, on the other hand, is it one of the greatest reasons, one of the greatest arguments, in its favor; for, the stronger the personality and the greater the powers, the greater the influence in the service of mankind. If, then, life be thus founded, can there possibly be any greater incentive to that self-development that brings one up to his highest possibilities? A development merely for self alone can never have behind it an incentive, a power so great; and after all, there is nothing in the world so great, so effective in the service of mankind, as a strong, noble, and beautiful manhood or womanhood. It is this that in the ultimate determines the influence of every man upon his fellow men. Life, character, is the greatest power in the world, and character it is that gives the power; for in all true power, along whatever line it may be, it is after all, living the life that tells. This is a great law that but few who would have great power and influence seem to recognize, or, at least, that but few seem to act upon.
Are you a writer? You can never write more than you yourself are. Would you write more? Then broaden, deepen, enrich the life. Are you a minister? You can never raise men higher than you have raised yourself. Your words will have exactly the sound of the life whence they come. Hollow the life? Hollow-sounding and empty will be the words, weak, ineffective, false. Would you have them go with greater power, and thus be more effective? Live the life, the power will come. Are you an orator? The power and effectiveness of your words in influencing and moving masses of men depends entirely upon the altitude from which they are spoken. Would you have them more effective, each one filled with a living power? Then elevate the life, the power will come. Are you in the walks of private life? Then, wherever you move, there goes from you, even if there be no word spoken, a silent but effective influence of an elevating or a degrading nature. Is the life high, beautiful? Then the influences are inspiring, life-giving. Is it low, devoid of beauty? The influences then, are disease laden, death-dealing. The tones of your voice, the attitude of your body, the character of your face, all are determined by the life you live, all in turn influence for better or for worse all who come within your radius. And if, as one of earth's great souls has said, the only way truly to help a man is to make him better, then the tremendous power of merely the life itself.
Why, I know personally a young man of splendid qualities and gifts, who was rapidly on the way of ruin, as the term goes, gradually losing control of himself day after day, self-respect almost gone—already the thought of taking his own life had entered his mind—who was so inspired with the mere presence and bearing of a royal-hearted young man, one who had complete mastery of himself, and therefore a young man of power, that the very sight of him as he went to and fro in his daily work was a power that called his better self to the front again, awakened the God nature within him, so that he again set his face in the direction of the right, the true, the manly; and today there is no grander, stronger, more beautiful soul in all the wide country than he. Yes, there is a powerful influence that resolves itself into a service for all in each individual strong, pure, and noble life.
And have the wonderful possibilities of what may be termed an inner or soul development ever come strongly to your notice? Perhaps not, for as yet only a few have begun to recognize under this name a certain great power that has always existed—a power that has never as yet been fully understood, and so has been called by this term and by that. It is possible so to develop this soul power that, as we stand merely and talk with a person, there goes out from us a silent influence that the person cannot see or hear, but that he feels, and the influences of which he cannot escape; that, as we merely go into a room in which several persons are sitting, there goes out from us a power, a silent influence that all will feel and will be influenced by, even though not a word be spoken. This has been the power of every man, of every woman, of great and lasting influence in the world's history.
It is just beginning to come to us through a few highly illumined souls that this power can be grown, that it rests upon great natural law that the Author of our being has instituted within us and about us. It is during the next few years that we are to see many wonderful developments along this line; for in this, as in many others, the light is just beginning to break. A few, who are far up on the heights of human development, are just beginning to catch the first few faint flushes of the dawn. Then live to your highest. This of itself will make you of great service to mankind, but without this you never can be. Naught is the difference how hard you may try; and know, even so far as your own highest interests are concerned, that the true joy of existence comes from living to one's highest.
This life, and this alone, will bring that which I believe to be one of the greatest characteristics of a truly great man—humility; and when one says humility, he necessarily implies simplicity; for the two always go hand in hand. The one is born of the other. The proud, the vain, the haughty, those striving for effect, are never counted among the world's greatest personages. The very fact of one's striving for effect of itself indicates that there is not enough in him to make him really great; while he who really is so needs never concern himself about it, nor does he ever. I can think of no better way for one to attain to humility and simplicity than for him to have his mind off of self in the service of others. Vanity, that most dangerous quality, and especially for young people, is the outcome of one's always regarding self.
Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher once said that, when they lived in the part of Brooklyn known as the Heights, they could always tell when Mr. Beecher was coming in the evening from the voices and the joyous laughter of the children. All the street urchins, as well as the more well-to-do children in the vicinity, knew him, and would often wait for his coming. When they saw him in the distance, they would run and gather around him, get hold of his hands, into those large overcoat pockets for the nuts and the good things he so often filled them with before starting for home, knowing as he did full well what was coming, tug at him to keep him with them as long as they could, he all the time laughing or running as if to get away, never too great—ay, rather let us say, great enough—to join with them in their sports.
That mysterious dignity of a man less great, therefore with less of humility and simplicity, with mind always intent upon self and his own standing, would have told him that possibly this might not be just the "proper thing" to do. But even the children, street urchins as well as those well-to-do, found in this great loving soul a friend. Recall similar incidents in the almost daily life of Lincoln and in the lives of all truly great men. All have that beautiful and ever-powerful characteristic, that simple, childlike nature.
Another most beautiful and valuable feature of this life is its effect upon one's own growth and development. There is a law which says that one can't do a kind act or a loving service for another without its bringing rich returns to his own life and growth. This is an invariable law. Can I then, do a kind act or a loving service for a brother or a sister—and all indeed are such because children of the same Father—why, I should be glad—ay, doubly glad of the opportunity. If I do it thus out of love, forgetful of self, for aught I know it may do me more good than the one I do it for, in its influence upon the growing of that rich, beautiful, and happy life it is mine to grow; though the joy and satisfaction resulting from it, the highest, the sweetest, the keenest this life can know, are of themselves abundant rewards.
In addition to all this it scarcely ever fails that those who are thus aided by some loving service may be in a position somehow, some-when, somewhere, either directly or indirectly, and at a time when it may be most needed or most highly appreciated, to do in turn a kind service for him who, with never a thought of any possible return, has dealt kindly with them. So
Scatter it with willing fingers, shout for joy to see it go!
You may think it lost forever; but, as sure as God is true,
In this life and in the other it will yet return to you.
—From "Love is the Greatest Thing in the World" by William Henry Drummond
Have you sorrows or trials that seem very heavy to bear? Then let me tell you that one of the best ways in the world to lighten and sweeten them is to lose yourself in the service of others, in helping to bear and lighten those of a fellow being whose, perchance, are much more grievous than your own. It is a great law of your being which says you can do this. Try it, and experience the truth for yourself, and know that, when turned in this way, sorrow is the most beautiful soul-refiner of which the world knows, and hence not to be shunned, but to be welcomed and rightly turned.
There comes to my mind a poor widow woman whose life would seem to have nothing in it to make it happy, but, on the other hand, cheerless and tiresome, and whose work would have been very hard, had it not been for a little crippled child she dearly loved and cared for, and who was all the more precious to her on account of its helplessness. Losing herself and forgetting her own hard lot in the care of the little cripple, her whole life was made cheerful and happy, and her work not hard, but easy, because lightened by love and service for another. And this is but one of innumerable cases of this kind.
So you may turn your sorrows, you may lighten your burdens, by helping bear the burdens, if not of a crippled child, then of a brother or a sister who in another sense may be crippled, or who may become so but for your timely service. You can find them all about you: never pass one by.
By building upon this principle, the poor may thus live as grandly and as happily as the rich, those in humble and lowly walks of life as grandly and as happily as those in what seem to be more exalted stations. Recognizing the truth, as we certainly must by this time, that one is truly great only in so far as this is made the fundamental principle of his life, it becomes evident that that longing for greatness for its and for one's own sake falls away, and none but a diseased mind cares for it; for no sooner is it grasped than, as a bubble, it bursts, because it is not the true, the permanent, but the false, the transient. On the other hand, he who forgetting self and this kind of greatness, falsely so called, in the service of his fellow men, by this very fact puts himself on the right track, the only track for the true, the genuine; and in what degree it will come to him depends entirely upon his adherence to the law.
And do you know the influence of this life in the moulding of the features, that it gives the highest beauty that can dwell there, the beauty that comes from within—the soul beauty, so often found in the paintings of the old masters. True beauty must come, must be grown, from, within. That outward veneering, which is so prevalent, can never be even a poor imitation of this type of the true, the genuine. To appreciate fully the truth of this, it is but necessary to look for a moment at that beautiful picture by Sant, the "Soul's Awakening," a face that grows more beautiful each time one looks at it, and that one never tires of looking at, and compare with it the fractional parts of apothecary shops we see now and then—or so often, to speak more truly—on the streets. A face of this higher type carries with it a benediction wherever it goes.
A beautiful little incident came to my notice not long ago. It was a very hot and dusty day. The passengers on the train were weary and tired. The time seemed long and the journey cheerless. A lady with a face that carries a benediction to all who see her entered the car with a little girl, also of that type of beauty that comes from within, and with a voice musical, sweet, and sparkling, such as also comes from this source.
The child, when they were seated, had no sooner spoken a few words before she began to enlist the attention of her fellow passengers. She began playing peek-a-boo with a staid and dignified old gentleman in the seat behind her. He at first looked at her over his spectacles, then lowered his paper a little, then a little more, and a little more. Finally, he dropped it altogether, and, apparently forgetting himself and his surroundings, became oblivious to everything in the fascinating pleasure he was having with the little girl. The other passengers soon found themselves following his example. All papers and books were dropped. The younger folks gave way to joyous laughter, and all seemed to vie with each other in having the honor of receiving a word or a smile from the little one.
The dust, the heat, the tired, cheerless feelings were all forgotten; and when these two left the car, the little girl waving them goodbye, instinctively, as one person, all the passengers waved it to her in return, and two otherwise dignified gentlemen, leaving their seats, passed over to the other side, and looked out of the window to see her as long as they could. Something as an electrical spark seemed to have passed through the car. All were light-hearted and happy now; and the conditions in the car, compared to what they were before these two entered, would rival the work of the stereopticon, so far as completeness of change is concerned. You have seen such faces and have heard such voices. They result from a life the kind we are considering. They are but its outward manifestations, spontaneous as the water from the earth as it bursts forth a natural fountain.
We must not fail also to notice the effect of this life upon one's manners and bearing. True politeness comes from a life founded upon this great principle, and from this alone. This gives the true gentleman—gentle-man—a man gentle, kind, loving, courteous from nature. Such a one can't have anything but true politeness, can't be anything but a gentle-man; for one can't truly be anything but himself. So the one always intent upon and thinking of self cannot be the true gentleman, notwithstanding the artful contrivances and studied efforts to appear so, but which so generally reveal his own shallowness and artificiality, and disgust all with whom he comes in contact.
I sometimes meet a person who, when introduced, will go through a series of stiff, cold, and angular movements, the knee at such a bend, the foot at such an angle, the back with such a bend or hump—much less pleasant to see than that of a camel or a dromedary, for with these it is natural—so that I have found myself almost thinking, Poor fellow, I wonder what the trouble is, whether he will get over it all right. It is so very evident that he all the time has his mind upon himself, wondering whether or not he is getting everything just right. What a relief to turn from such a one to one who, instead of thinking always of self, has continually in mind the ease and comfort and pleasure he can give to others, who, in other words, is the true gentle-man, and with whom true politeness is natural; for one's every act is born of his thoughts.
It is said that there was no truer gentleman in all Scotland than Robert Burns. And yet he was a farmer all his life, and had never been away from his native little rural village into a city until near the close of his life, when, taking the manuscripts that for some time had been accumulating in the drawer of his writing-table up to Edinburgh, he captivated the hearts of all in the capital. Without studied contrivances, he was the true gentleman, and true politeness was his, because his life was founded upon the principle that continually brought from his pen lines such as:—
That man to man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that!
And under the influence of this principle, he was a gentleman by nature, and one of nature's noblemen, without ever thinking whether he was or not, as he who is truly such never needs to and never does.
And then recall the large-hearted Ben Franklin, when sent to the French court. In his plain gray clothes, unassuming and entirely forgetful of himself, how he captured the hearts of all, of even the giddy society ladies, and how he became and remained while there the center of attraction in that gay capital! His politeness, his manners, all the result of that great, kind, loving, and helpful nature which made others feel that it was they he was devoting himself to and not himself.
This little extract from a letter written by Franklin to George Whitefield will show how he regarded the great principle we are considering: "As to the kindness you mention, I wish it could have been of more service to you. But, if it had, the only thanks I should desire is that you would always be equally ready to serve any other person that may need your assistance; and so let good offices go around, for mankind are all of a family. For my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favors, but as paying debts. In my travels, and since my settlement, I have received much kindness from men to whom I shall never have any opportunity of making any direct return, and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our services. These kindnesses from men I can, therefore, only return on their fellow men; and I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God by a readiness to help his other children and my brethren."
No, true gentlemanliness and politeness always comes from within, and is born of a life of love, kindliness, and service. This is the universal language, known and understood everywhere, even when our words are not. There is, you know, a beautiful old proverb which says, "He who is kind and courteous to strangers thereby shows himself a citizen of the world." And there is nothing so remembered, and that so endears one to all mankind, as this universal language. Even dumb animals understand it and are affected by it. How quickly the dog, for example, knows and makes it known when he is spoken to and treated kindly or the reverse! And here shall not a word be spoken in connection with that great body of our fellow creatures whom, because we do not understand their language, we are accustomed to call dumb? The attitude we have assumed toward these fellow creatures, and the treatment they have been subjected to in the past, is something almost appalling.
There are a number of reasons why this has been true. Has not one been on account of a belief in a future life for man, but not for the animal? A few years ago a gentleman left by will some fifty thousand dollars for the work of Henry Bergh's New York Society. His relatives contested the will on the ground of insanity—on the ground of insanity because he believed in a future life for animals. The judge, in giving his decision sustaining the will, stated that after a very careful investigation, he found that fully half the world shared the same belief. Agassiz thoroughly believed it. An English writer has recently compiled a list of over one hundred and seventy English authors who have so thoroughly believed it as to write upon the subject. The same belief has been shared by many of the greatest thinkers in all parts of the world, and it is a belief that is constantly gaining ground.
Another and perhaps the chief cause has been on account of a supposed inferior degree of intelligence on the part of animals, which in another form would mean, that they are less able to care for and protect themselves. Should this, however, be a reason why they should be neglected and cruelly treated? Nay, on the other hand, should this not be the greatest reason why we should all the more zealously care for, protect, and kindly treat them?
You or I may have a brother or a sister who is not normally endowed as to brain power, who, perchance, may be idiotic or insane, or who, through sickness or mishap, is weakminded; but do we make this an excuse for neglecting, cruelly treating, or failing to love such a one? On the contrary, the very fact that he or she is not so able to plan for, care for, and protect him or herself, is all the greater reason for all the more careful exercise of these functions on our part. But, certainly, there are many animals around us with far more intelligence, at least manifested intelligence, than this brother or sister. The parallel holds, but the absurd falsity of the position we assume is most apparent. No truer nobility of character can anywhere manifest itself than is shown in one's attitude toward and treatment of those weaker or the so-called inferior, and so with less power to care for and protect themselves. Moreover, I think we shall find that we are many times mistaken in regard to our beliefs in connection with the inferior intelligence of at least many animals. If, instead of using them simply to serve our own selfish ends without a just recompense, without a thought further than as to what we can get out of them, and then many times casting them off when broken or of no further service, and many times looking down upon, neglecting, or even abusing them—if, instead of this, we would deal equitably with them, love them, train and educate them the same as we do our children, we would be somewhat surprised at the remarkable degree of intelligence the "dumb brutes" possess, and also the remarkable degree of training they are capable of. What, however, can be expected of them when we take the attitude we at present hold toward them?
Page after page might readily be filled with most interesting as well as inspiring portrayals of their superior intelligence, their remarkable capabilities under kind and judicious training, their faithfulness and devotion. The efforts of such noble and devoted workers as Henry Bergh in New York, of George T. Angell in Massachusetts, and many others in various parts of the country, have already brought about a great change in our attitude toward and relations with this great body of our fellow creatures, and have made all the world more thoughtful, considerate, and kind. This, however, is just the beginning of a work that is assuming greater and ever greater proportions.
The work of the American Humane Education Society is probably surpassed in its vitality and far-reaching results by the work of no other society in the world today. Its chief object is the humane education of the American people; and through one phase of its work alone—its Bands of Mercy, over twenty-five thousand of which have already been formed, giving regular, systematic humane training and instruction to between one and two million children, and these continually increasing in numbers—a most vital work is being done, such as no man can estimate.
The humane sentiment inculcated in one's relations with the animal world, and its resultant feelings of sympathy, tenderness, love, and care, will inevitably manifest itself in one's relations with his fellows; and I for one, would rejoice to see this work carried into every school throughout the length and breadth of the land. In many cases this one phase of the child's training would be of far more vital value and import as he grows to manhood than all the rest of the schooling combined, and it would form a most vital entering wedge in the solution of our social situation.
And why should we not speak to and kindly greet an animal as we pass it, as instinctively as we do a human fellow being? Though it may not get our words, it will invariably get the attitude and the motive that prompts them, and will be affected accordingly. This it will do every time. Animals in general are marvelously sensitive to the mental conditions, the thought forces, and emotions of people. Some are peculiarly sensitive, and can detect them far more quickly and unerringly than many people can.
It ought to help us greatly in our relations with them ever fully to realize that they with us are parts of the one Universal Life, simply different forms of the manifestation of the One Life, having their part to play in the economy of the great universe the same as we have ours, having their destiny to work out the same as we have ours, and just as important, just as valuable, in the sight of the All in All as we ourselves.
"I saw deep in the eyes of the animals the human soul look out upon me. "I saw where it was born deep down under feathers and fur, or condemned for a while to roam four-footed among the brambles. I caught the clinging mute glance of the prisoner, and swore I would be faithful.
"Thee my brother and sister I see, and mistake not. Do not be afraid. Dwelling thus for a while, fulfilling thy appointed time, thou, too, shall come to thyself at last.
"Thy half-warm horns and long tongue lapping round my wrist do not conceal thy humanity any more than the learned talk of the pedant conceals his—for all thou art dumb, we have words and plenty between us.
"Come nigh, little bird, with your half-stretched quivering wings—within you I behold choirs of angels, and the Lord himself in vista."
But a small thing, apparently, is a kind look, word, or service of some kind; but, oh! who can tell where it may end? It costs the giver comparatively nothing; but who can tell the priceless value to him who receives it? The cup of loving service, be it merely a cup of cold water, may grow and swell into a boundless river, refreshing and carrying life and hope in turn to numberless others, and these to others, and so have no end. This may be just the critical moment in some life. Given now, it may save or change a life or a destiny. So don't withhold the bread that's in your keeping, but
—From "Love is the Greatest Thing in the World" by William Henry Drummond
There is no greater thing in life that you can do, and nothing that will bring you such rich and precious returns.
The question is sometimes asked, How can one feel a deep and genuine love, a love sufficient to manifest itself in service for all?—there are some so mean, so small, with so many peculiar, objectionable, or even obnoxious characteristics. True, very true, apparently at least; but another great law of life is that we find in men and women exactly those qualities, those characteristics, we look for, or that are nearest akin to the predominant qualities or characteristics of our own natures. If we look for the peculiar, the little, the objectionable, these we shall find; but back of all this, all that is most apparent on the exterior, in the depths of each and every human soul, is the good, the true, the brave, the loving, the divine, the God-like, that that never changes, the very God Himself that at some time or another will show forth His full likeness.
And still another law of life is that others usually manifest to us that which our own natures, or, in other words, our own thoughts and emotions, call forth. The same person, for example, will come to two different people in an entirely different way, because the larger, better, purer, and more universal nature of the one calls forth the best, the noblest, the truest in him; while the smaller, critical, personal nature of the other calls forth the opposite. The wise man is therefore careful in regard to what he has to say concerning this or that one; for, generally speaking, it is a sad commentary upon one's self if he find only the disagreeable, the objectionable. One lives always in the atmosphere of his own creation.
Again, it is sometimes said, But such a one has such and such habits or has done so and so, has committed such and such an error or such and such a crime. But who, let it be asked, constituted me a judge of my fellow man? Do I not recognize the fact that the moment I judge my fellow man, by that very act I judge myself? One of two things, I either judge myself or hypocritically profess that never once in my entire life have I committed a sin, an error of any kind, never have I stumbled, never fallen, and by that very profession I pronounce myself at once either a fool or a knave, or both.
Again, it is said, But even for the sake of helping, of doing some service, I could not for my own sake, for character's, for reputation's sake, I could not afford even to be seen with such a one. What would people, what would my friends, think and say? True, apparently at least, but, if my life, my character, has such a foundation, a foundation so weak, so uncertain, so tottering, as to be affected by anything of this kind, I had better then look well to it, and quietly, quickly, but securely, begin to rebuild it; and, when I am sure that it is upon the true, deep, substantial foundation, the only additional thing then necessary is for me to reach that glorious stage of development which quickly gets one out of the personal into the universal, or rather that indicates that he is already out of the one and into the other, when he can say: They think. What do they think? Let them think. They say. What do they say? Let them say.
And, then, the supreme charity one should have, when he realizes the fact that the great bulk of the sin and error in the world is committed not through choice, but through ignorance. Not that the person does not know many times that this or that course of action is wrong, that it is wrong to commit this error or sin or crime; but the ignorance comes in his belief that in this course of conduct he is deriving pleasure and happiness, and his ignorance of the fact that through a different course of conduct he would derive a pleasure, a happiness, much keener, higher, more satisfying and enduring.
Never should we forget that we are all the same in motive—pleasure and happiness: we differ only in method; and this difference in method is solely by reason of some souls being at any particular time more fully evolved, and thus having a greater knowledge of the great, immutable laws under which we live, and by putting the life into more and ever more complete harmony with these higher laws and forces, and in this way bringing about the highest, the keenest, the most abiding pleasure and happiness instead of seeking it on the lower planes.
While all are the same in essence, all a part of the One Infinite, Eternal, all with the same latent possibilities, all reaching ultimately the same place, it nevertheless is true that at any particular time some are more fully awakened, evolved, unfolded. One should also be careful, if life is continuous, eternal, how he judges any particular life merely from these threescore years and ten; for the very fact of life, in whatever form, means continual activity, growth, advancement, unfoldment, attainment, and, if there is the one, there must of necessity be the other. So in regard to this one or that one, no fears need be entertained.
By the door of my woodland cabin stood during the summer a magnificent tube-rose stock. The day was when it was just putting into bloom; and then I counted buds—latent flowers—to the number of over a score. Some eight or ten one morning were in full bloom. The ones nearer the top did not bloom forth until some two and three weeks later, and for some it took quite a month to reach the fully perfected stage. These certainly were not so beautiful, so satisfying, as those already in the perfect bloom, those that had already reached their highest perfection. But should they on this account be despised? Wait, wait and give the element of time an opportunity of doing its work; and you may find that by and by, when these have reached their highest perfection, they may even far transcend in beauty and in fragrance those at present so beautiful, so fragrant, so satisfying, those that we so much admire.
Here we recognize the element of time. How foolish, how childish, how puerile, to fail or even refuse to do the same when it comes to the human soul, with all its God-like possibilities! And, again, how foolish, because some of the blooms on the rose stock had not reached their perfection as soon as others, to have pronounced them of no value, unworthy, and to have refused them the dews, the warm rains, the life-giving sunshine, the very agencies that hastened their perfected growth! Yet this puerile, unbalanced attitude is that taken by untold numbers in the world today toward many human souls on account of their less mature unfoldment at any given time.
Why, the very fact that a fellow man and a brother has this or that fault, error, undesirable or objectionable characteristic, is of itself the very reason he needs all the more of charity, of love, of kindly help and aid, than is needed by the one more fully developed, and hence more free from these. All the more reason is there why the best in him should be recognized and ever called to the front.
The wise man is he who, when he desires to rid a room of darkness or gloom, does not attempt to drive it out directly, but who throws open the doors and the windows, that the room may be flooded with the golden sunlight; for in its presence darkness and gloom cannot remain. So the way to help a fellow man and a brother to the higher and better life is not by ever prating upon and holding up to view his errors, his faults, his shortcomings, any more than in the case of children, but by recognizing and ever calling forth the higher, the nobler, the divine, the God-like, by opening the doors and the windows of his own soul, and thus bringing about a spiritual perception, that he may the more carefully listen to the inner voice, that he may the more carefully follow "the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." For in the exact proportion that the interior perception comes will the outer life and conduct accord with it—so far, and no farther.
Where in all the world's history is to be found a more beautiful or valuable incident than this? A group of men, self-centered, self-assertive, have found a poor woman who, in her blindness and weakness, has committed an error, the same one that they, in all probability, have committed not once, but many times; for the rule is that they are first to condemn who are most at fault themselves. They bring her to the Master, they tell him that she has committed a sin—ay, more, that she has been taken in the very act—and ask what shall be done with her, informing him that, in accordance with the olden laws, such a one should be stoned.
But, quicker than thought, that great incarnation of spiritual power and insight reads their motives; and, after allowing them to give full expression to their accusations, he turns, and calmly says, "He among you that is without sin, let him cast the first stone." So saying, he stoops down, as if he is writing in the sand. The accusers, feeling the keen and just rebuke, in the mean time sneak out, until not one remains. The Master, after all have gone, turns to the woman, his sister, and kindly and gently says, "And where are thine accusers? doth no man condemn thee?" "No man, Lord." "And neither do I condemn thee: go thou, and sin no more." Oh, the beauty, the soul pathos! Oh, the royal-hearted brother! Oh, the invaluable lesson to us all!
I have no doubt that this gentle, loving admonition, this calling of the higher and the better to the front, set into operation in her interior nature forces that hastened her progress from the purely animal, the unsatisfying, the diminishing, to the higher spiritual, the satisfying, the ever-increasing, or, even more, that made it instantaneous, but that in either case brought about the new birth—the new birth that comes with the awakening of the soul out of its purely physical sense-life to the higher spiritual perception and knowledge of itself, and thus the birth of the higher out of the lower, as at some time or another comes to each and every human soul.
And still another fact that should make us most charitable toward and slow to judge, or rather refuse to judge, a fellow man and a brother—the fact that we cannot know the intense strugglings and fightings he or she may be subjected to, though accompanied, it is true, by numerous stumblings and fallings, though the latter we see, while the former we fail to recognize. Did we, however, know the truth of the matter, it may be that in the case of ourselves, who are so quick to judge, had we the same temptations and fightings, the battle would not be half so nobly, so manfully fought, and our stumblings and fallings might be many times the number of his or of hers. Had we infinite knowledge and wisdom, our judgments would be correct; though, had we infinite knowledge and wisdom, we would be spared the task, though perhaps pleasure would seem to be the truer word to use, of our own self-imposed judgments.
Even so, then, if I cannot give myself in thorough love and service and self-devotion to each and all of the Father's other children, to every brother, no matter what the rank, station, or apparent condition, it shows that at least one of several things is radically wrong with self; and it also indicates that I shall never know the full and supreme joy of existence until I am able to and until I regard each case in the light of a rare and golden opportunity, in which I take a supreme delight.
Although what has just been said is true, at the same time there are occasions when it must be taken with wise discretion; and, although there are things it may be right for me to do for the sake of helping another life, at the same time there are things it may be unwise for me to do. I have sympathy for a friend who is lying in the gutter; but it would be very unwise for me to get myself into the same condition, and go and lie with him, thinking that only thus I could show my fullest sympathy, and be of greatest help to him. On the contrary, it is only as I stand on the higher ground that I am able to reach forth the hand that will truly lift him up. The moment I sink myself to the same level, my power to help ceases.
Just as unwise, to use a familiar example, far more unwise, would it be for me, were I a woman, to think of marrying a man who is a drunkard or a libertine, thinking that because I may love him I shall be able to reform him. In the first place, I should find that the desired results could not be accomplished in this way, or rather, no results that could not be accomplished, and far more readily accomplished otherwise, and at far less expense. In the second place, I could not afford to subject myself to the demands, the influences, of one such, and so either sink myself to his level or, if not, then be compelled to use the greater part of my time, thought, and energy in demonstrating over existing conditions, and keeping myself true to the higher life, the same time that might be used in helping the lives of many others. If I sink myself to his level, I do not help, but aid all the more in dragging him down, or, if I do not sink to his level, then in the degree that I approach it do I lose my power over and influence with that life. Especially would it be unwise on my part if on his part there is no real desire for a different course, and no manifest endeavor to attain to it. Many times it seems necessary for such a one to wallow in the deepest of the mire, until, to use a commonplace phrase, he has his fill. He will then be ready to come out, will then be open to influence. I in the mean time, instead of entering into the mire with him, instead of subjecting my life to his influences, will stand up on the higher ground, and will ever point him upward, will ever reach forth a hand to help him upward, and will thus subject him to the higher influences; and, by preserving myself in this attitude, I can do the same for many other lives. In it all there will be no bitterness, no condemnation, no casting off, but the highest charity, sympathy and love; and it is only by this method that I can manifest the highest, only by this method that I can the most truly aid, for only as I am lifted up can I draw others unto me.
In this matter of service, as in all other matters, that supreme regulator of human life and conduct—good common sense—must always be used. There are some natures, for example, whom the more we would do for, the more we would have to do for, who, in other words, would become dependent, losing their sense of self-dependence. For such the highest service one can render is as judiciously and as indirectly as possible to lead them to the sense of self-reliance. Then there are others whose natures are such that, the more they are helped, the more they expect, the more they demand, even as their right, who, in other words, are parasites or vultures of the human kind. In this case, again, the greatest service that can be rendered may be a refusal of service, a refusal of aid in the ordinary or rather expected forms, and a still greater service in the form of teaching them that great principle of justice, of compensation, that runs through all the universe—that for every service there must be in some form or another an adequate service in return, that the law of compensation in one form or another is absolute, and, in fact, the greatest forms of service we can render any one are, generally speaking, along the lines of teaching him the great laws of his own being, the great laws of his true possibilities and powers and so the great laws of self-help.
And, again, it is possible for one whose heart goes out in love and service for all, and who, by virtue of lacking that long range of vision or by virtue of not having a grasp of things in their entirety or wholeness, may have his time, his energies so dissipated in what seems to be the highest service that he is continually kept from his own highest unfoldment, powers, and possessions, the very things that in their completeness would make him a thousand-fold more effective and powerful in his own life, and hence in the life of real service and influence. And, in a case of this kind, many times the mark of the most absolute unselfishness is a strong and marked selfishness, which will prove however to be a selfishness only in the seeming.
The self should never be lost sight of. It is the one thing of supreme importance, the greatest factor even in the life of the greatest service. Being always and necessarily precedes doing: having always and necessarily precedes giving. But this law also holds: that when there is the being, it is all the more increased by the doing; when there is the having, it is all the more increased by the giving. Keeping to one's self dwarfs and stultifies. Hoarding brings loss: using brings even greater gain. In brief, the more we are, the more we can do; the more we have, the more we can give.
The most truly successful, the most powerful and valuable life, then, is the life that is first founded upon this great, immutable law of love and service, and that then becomes supremely self-centered—upremely self-centered that it may become all the more supremely unself-centered; in other words, the life that looks well to self, that there may be the ever greater self, in order that there may be the ever greater service.
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.