The wise men of our youth recede before our maturing vision; the giants diminish in stature, and presently we are abreast of them and look over their heads. Our idols descend from their pedestals. With what assurance were we children taught fables to which there was no moral; and having discerned this we see how assumed was this assurance of our early teachers. How impermanent are our impressions. The greatest ship or tallest building, or the span of new bridge have our curiosity for a day and are no longer thought of. The travesty of justice—the infamous trial—horrify us for the moment but make no lasting impression. The battle-field and the holocaust are soon forgotten. We must needs have a ship a mile long, or a bridge to the moon to hold the attention; and such would soon be an old story. In what a fever do we live! We must have perpetual news, and yet no news is ever new. Photograph any street scene and all the persons in it appear to be moving at a dog trot. Yet no man ever ran away from himself. Every man runs because another runs—but no one stops to inquire whither. We are like men traversing the ice in a direction contrary to the movement of the floe; there is no change of latitude commensurate with the exertion. All things are afloat—the world's afloat!
But there is that which remains forever firm, and there should we stand related. There is a substance and it may be found, a purpose and it may be known; who has faith, perception, will—he shall find and to him it shall be known. Life is spiritual here and now and God is nearer than we know—"nearer than hands and feet." To be skeptical of the world is one thing, to be skeptical of life, quite another. The former may be the beginning of philosophy, the latter is misanthropy and nullity. Truth only is infallible; and men and events worthy only in as much as they reflect this. Therefore let thy allegiance be to truth alone. To honor God is to do reverence to the soul in men; but to fail in the recognition of the Divine Immanence is to be at best but a half-brother to them. We are beholden to the purpose which placed us here, which has nurtured us through immemorial time, preserving inviolate the intrepid Soul, that we should discover our identity and straightway declare allegiance to divine law; should aim to sing this event in the poetry and inspiration of our lives. Men enough there are to scoff and sneer at life, men enough to merely hope for a beneficent outcome—to predict a compensation for present conditions; but only now and then is there a man who can show that these are not ills. A little observation shows that society is infected with pessimism. The world is full of future idealists who are nevertheless present pessimists. What it needs always is men who believe in today, who see in the hour the guarantee of eternity; men of a resolute faith who shall consecrate their divine energies to the understanding rather than to the intellect. That man cannot live by bread alone should be obvious to a dullard. No food but the bread of life shall satisfy the ultimate hunger. There is need, then, of those who can prevent the spread of a spiritual famine and carry relief to the many that lack spiritual nourishment. And these the world needs for its own sake—not for truth's sake, for truth needs no assurances. It is a trite saying this, "for God's sake," and means nothing. Beneath the very preacher's nose they sit—these hungry souls with their famished look.
History has shown how abortive are all aims not projected from a universal standpoint—that is, with reference to the Soul; and every man's private experience must ultimately confirm this. In his heart of hearts the millionaire has come to feel an affinity with Midas. Fame can be nothing to man; it is much to his egotism. But the day comes when he perceives that this latter is something it were well to be rid of. Seek money to the end of happiness and the money is gained, but the happiness escapes. Ever is self-loathing the end of self-seeking.
But how shall we set limits to true achievement who are but mediums for the all-pervading Spirit—tongues that must ultimately speak for eternal truth? The mistake has been in assuming that men were separate and detached in their existence, instead of points of admission to a common source.
No man ever withdrew himself in bitterness from men but presently he was called upon to make atonement. We shall expiate every hour wasted in melancholy; repay with interest the time we gave to playing the cynic. Go the length of cynicism and it shall be required of you to go as far in the opposite direction. The angle of reflection shall equal the angle of incidence. Love solitude we may, but woe to him who is guilty of inhumanity. Love nature more but love not men the less. He who perceives not God in his brother shall look in vain elsewhere. There is no drawing nearer to God through separating ourselves from men. The experiment is often tried and as often fails. But it is the attitude which counts—not the appearance. It were as well to dwell in a cave as to live among men and have no point in common. There are more hermits in cities than in the wilderness. Ours is not wisdom until it has become serene and tolerant. We shall be tolerant of their very foibles; have we not so lived, and shall they not presently view their folly as now we have been brought to view our own?
Never was there a serene moment but it bore the fruit of serenity; never a moment of courage but was productive of courage. One intrepid man may infuse the heroic spirit into a multitude. A few men with a genius for enterprise and affairs keep the ball rolling; plenty there are to push at their bidding. See, then, the worth of the individual. Little kings inherit thrones—little men plot and scheme; but the command is thrust upon the great man—on him the office waits. Creation awaits the approach of genius and is ever urging its advent. When the man comes there is always palette and chisel ready at hand. Our life proves to be a preparation for the event, public or private.
Opportunities for public heroism are few, and even so are cheapened and made theatric by their very publicity. But it is left to every man to be heroic, if he will, in his private life; there is no bar to private heroism. And why should we have an audience for our acts; why make a spectacle of virtue? There is an inner sanction, a silent approval, which is heard beyond all plaudits; and this suffices to self-reliance. When the world is become our mentor we have no longer any rugged or Spartan virtue left. Men hesitate to open an account with God, forgetful that the Spirit writes down their every act and strikes a balance on their faces.
To do well—this alone concerns us; to do better than another is of no moment—is indeed a false aim. The achievement of another is never properly a standard. Rather let us trust ourselves and accept the Inner Light and the standard there revealed. Nor may I rightly aim to surpass another; but to reach my own mark and fulfill my own measure alone involves a worthy motive. With all due allowance for the competitive spirit it is at best a respectable selfishness. Shall we not aim high for love of truth and live nobly for the honor of that which makes us to live at all? What if men were as eager for divine approbation as for the praise of the world?
"Suppose," said Epictetus, "Caesar were to adopt you, there would be no bearing your haughty looks; and will you not feel ennobled on knowing yourself to be the son of God." Rest assured if you have cast in your lot for truth, that truth will not forsake you. Whoever works for good is sustained by good; whoever lives a normal life receives the cooperation of law. The service is reciprocal; to serve wisdom is never a thankless task.
In the event of our lost opportunities being marshaled before us we would doubtless be astounded and chagrined at the disclosure—so numerous are they, so simple their character. We passed through a field of flowers and saw them not. We would be astonished at what is not there no less than by what appears. The futile ambition, the wrong investment, the political failure—for these we may look in vain; but our Nemesis is very real—very precise. Children would pass before us—children whose smiles we did not see; men who asked nothing and to whom we should have given; those in need of kind words and for whom we had none. The child that hungered for the affection we withheld would be there, and the gentle mother whose only reproof was patience and forbearance. Not what we failed to get but what we failed to give—such are lost opportunities; new hopes to which we offered no encouragement; feeble longings which our indifference stifled; meetings and partings to which we brought no smile, no faith, no courage.
O to scatter blessings broadcast, to give without wish for return, to do good for the joy of it, to toss your good-will and heartiness right and left among men; to bring a smile to wan faces, hope into dull eyes, sunshine into dark corners, and so touch men's lives that they shall feel the passing of some benign influence, the presence of something divine—here are aims! O the joy of a big heart and a kindly nature; the power to draw the best from men—to infuse into them a new life and courage; to catch them up out of the life of eating and drinking and cast a ray of the Soul into their befuddled minds; to kindle a little flame of unselfish love in cold hearts, a little enthusiasm in cold intellects; to take the miser out of his den and show him the riches of the heart; to take the rich man from his playthings and reveal to him the beauty and purpose of life! Whatever cramps the mind or contracts the heart, whatever apparent success in one direction that makes intolerance of other directions, may be reckoned a false aim. All success must be weighed in this balance. We must have something real to show for the having lived. To have grown wise and kind is the real success. We should be holy men in the sense of whole men—whole-souled, whole-hearted. Men will look to us in their time of trouble for courage, wisdom, faith—and if we have but money to offer we shall appear foolish indeed.
Men, aye, races of men, have toiled out their lives and disappeared without accomplishing as much' as have some men of genius in a single day. Why talk of time? Where is there a man who has lived a good hour of life; or one who is now living, and not still preparing to live? Three-score years and ten of eating, drinking and sleeping is a puff of smoke. But one hour of faith, one hour of divine life inaugurates an era. To live divinely is not to ignore the commonplace but to ennoble it. Did we accord to the simple acts of life that worth and dignity which is their due we would live deeper and truer, and advance in harmony with the eternal purport of things. Who knows what it is to live; who knows the joy of real life—life which is prayer, life which is worship. Are we to beg and cringe and hang on the outer edge of life—we who should walk grandly? Is it for man to tremble and quake—man who in his spiritual capacity becomes the interpreter of God's message—the focus of Divine Light?
In the divine economy is no experiment, no waste—no loss. But we are under the necessity of becoming wise. Therefore think—and think again, for you shall deliver yourself through understanding. Be earnest for truth, and whichever way you turn, before you stretches a road that leads to God. Whatever the present outlook, we shall yet attain a broader; whatever the present insight, we shall yet possess a deeper. There is no stumbling-block but may prove a stepping-stone; no prison bars but shall fade away. To our self-complacency comes no uplifting thought, no sense of the Immanent Presence; but out of unrest comes ultimately a divine and healing consciousness. When the props fall away we re-recover our strength. After the storm comes a glowing sense of peace; from the ashes of the old springs the new—phoenix-like.
The Spirit descends upon all; oftenest to the pure in mind—the child-eyed. If not in ecstatic vision, then in uplifting thought, in generous impulse. Wherever there are helping hands, wherever there are kindly thoughts, where for one divine moment unselfishness speaks her benediction—there is the Spirit and there is the presence of the Lord. It may be in palaces—but it is oftenest in homes. Is it nothing to withhold the carping words, nothing to forbear from judging; is it nothing to make a day brighter, to have made golden one passing hour? A merry heart will ever remain the best medicine, and sweet thoughts are angels, and gentle smiles a benediction. More kingly it is to have given a bone to a friendless dog than much that passes for kingliness; and to let the tide of your good-will flow to so insignificant a thing as yon hop-toad has a bearing on your life. When we live near to God, ever shall the Spirit catch us up into the heaven of peace and good-will.