Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden. Hebrew Scriptures.
It is now well known that the story of which these words are a fragment is not peculiar to the He-brew writings, With a few variations it can be found in many places.
There may be various portraits of the same per-son. The view may be from the front or from the side; the eyes may be partially averted; the expression varies with each changing mood; and yet it is easily recognizable as the same person. So the many different stories grouped around the childhood of the race are only different appearances of the same thing. They all originated in the same place, in the human mind.
For many years the antiquarians tried to find the location of the Garden of Eden. We need not join in the curious search. Where is the garden of Hesperides? Where are the Lotus Islands? Where is the dragon guarded gold dust of the Scythians? Where is Mimir’s Fountain? Where is the race course of Atalanta? Where did Hercules meet his temptation ? Where did Adam and Eve live for a time in happiness and then pass toward sorrow ? Everywhere. Where-ever human beings have lived and are living they may be found. The story of Paradise is an expression of the fact that, in a complex world, mankind has the power of choice and tremendous issues attend every act of the will.
The origin of evil may be veiled in myth, but its presence in the historic and present world is very real. It may be be readily granted that some of the theological conclusions, drawn from the Bible account of its coming into the world, are greatly exaggerated. Such doctrines as original sin, total depravity, and the awful doom pronounced upon all the race because of the Eden transaction are much too ponderous for so slight a foundation. It is not surprising that they have become very insecure and seem ready to fall into ruins. Nevertheless, the original story contains a truth. Experience had taught that two paths open before every mortal. In the story one of them ran among the trees and flowers; the other among thorns and thistles. The latter was narrow and unworn. It only showed the traces of a man and woman who, in terror and grief, had tried to flee from the presence of an angry God. In time those footprints were followed by many others. The narrow trail became wider and more distinct. At last it broadened into a highway worn into dust by the multitudes passing over it. Thus poetry became reality. The legend was stereo-typed and became history.
Every life begins in an Eden. Trees bearing fruits of pleasure are clustered on every side. There, too, is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Childhood is ignorant and innocent. In every life are the actors of that mythical drama. There is Adam, the power of the will, the earth element, the masculine quality. There is Eve, the affectionate, the alluring, the feminine nature. The serpent symbolizes the inferior reason, the cunning, the sophistical element that confuses good and evil. The voice of God stands for the superior reason, the moral sentiment, that inner monitor which, in the quiet twilight hour of meditation succeeding action, approves or rebukes each deed:
“High instincts before which our mortal nature
Does tremble like a guilty thing surprised.”
At first selfish pleasure is sought regardless of consequences. Later it is discovered that self is not the whole universe and duty – begins to impose its limitations. Freedom is bounded by law. Conscience and inclination are often in conflict. Permitted to eat the fruit of many trees, some trees are hedged about with restrictions. Whoever goes beyond them loses the sense of innocence. To lose innocence, is to lose happiness. The woman who listens to the tempter, the man who eats forbidden fruit falls into shame and, when calm reason, like the voice of God, is heard to speak trembles in terror.
Earth possesses a two-fold significance. One of its faces is divine; the other is demoniac. Everything has a beauty and use under which is concealed a quality that is deformed and destroying in its character. Many a thing that is placid and alluring on its surface is full of interior ferocities. However spotted its coat and graceful its motions the adder carries poisoned fangs. The ocean is the world’s highway of commerce and pleasure. It is a cleanser of the atmosphere and tonic of life. But it is full of untamed violence and at times seems to take a fierce delight in destroying property and drowning human beings. Rains that help create harvests may turn to floods and ruin them. Breezes that to-day scarcely disturb a rose-leaf, to-morrow may become a tornado. Lightning purifies the air, but it is sometimes a swift messenger of death. A slight variation of proportions changes a food into a poison.
The same two-fold condition appears in the realm of human action. A difficult task was assigned man when he was told to select food in a world that grew so many noxious plants. How long it must have taken him to learn when it is safe to trust the sea and the wind and night and frost and heat, because, at any moment, these friends are liable to become his enemies! But this lesson was scarcely half learned when a much more difficult one was placed before him;how to keep his pleasure unmixed with pain; how to so modulate his virtues as to prevent them from becoming vices. Sunshine is good; but that which makes Colorado less fertile than Iowa is too much sunshine and too little rain. Corn needs heat; but too much heat for two or three July days some-times turns the Kansas and Nebraska cornfields into deserts. Thus, often in the human world, bad is only good in excess. A person who begins with a just indignation against some wrong may become an indiscriminate fault-finder and finally graduate into a common scold. The judicial mind is admirable; but to weigh testimony continually and never reach a conviction upon any subject is as bad as too much haste in forming a judgment. Pride is only self respect overdone. Reform may become vindictive and revolutionary. Zeal may turn to fanaticism. Superstition is religion unmodified by good sense.
Nature always counsels moderation. Some of the older philosophers introduced the saying that “nature abhors a vacuum.” This may be true; but it is no less true that nature does not like to have space over-crowded. Balance and a wise distribution and alter-nation seem to please her better. Birds sing, but only for a few weeks of the year. Flowers decorate only the spring and summer months. The green leaves of June make way for the gorgeous display of October; then the million brilliant flags are hauled down and the eye must be content with bare branches.
Some music lover has suggested that one of the charms of Beethoven’s sonatas is due to the fact that their harmonies move along within reach of our common thoughts and emotions. They do not carry the soul away among mountain peaks and dark caverns or unveil before it the ungovernable rage of elemental forces. They lead it sweetly along the valleys among fields and orchards and homes. The moonlight does not fall upon a glacier or an avalanche or the unholy doings of some wild Walpurgis night. It gently falls upon a quiet cottage surrounded by a garden. Their mission is not to awe and astound and threaten. It is to bring peace and purity and awaken holy aspirations.
If Wagner arouses and bewilders, Beethoven soothes and delights the soul.
Human life is a marvellous grouping of powers, each one of which has its appropriate place and work. The intellect is to range over the great realm of truth and collect its many and rich treasures. Imagination hovers over the outposts of discovery and beckons mortals onward. With lighter wing, fancy flies to-ward the inaccessible, finds the impossible, and gives “to airy nothings a habitation and a name.” Memory holds fast the clue which guided life through the labyrinth of the years and, by its aid, is able to find is way back to every scene of the past. Hope projects its lines into the uncharted future and paints each coming sunrise in richer colors. Playing over the soul are dreams and reveries more sensitive than the strings of an Aeolian harp and changing our moods from laughter to tears as quickly as sunshine gives way to shadow on an April day. Through all, the stalwart will may be seen moving with strong step, compelling all thoughts and emotions to take form in outward acts.
By the modified and harmonious action of all these many powers, whatso is good in the world has come. Wherever intellect and will and conscience have worked together, earth has been blessed. What-ever they have touched, they have adorned. But they do not always act in harmony. Guided by reason and urged onward by the moral sentiment, the will has discovered new worlds, sown the seeds of liberty, built republics, and made possible universal education. The only regret is that it has not always been thus impelled and guided. Sometimes the will has made wild raids of its own.
Some of the older theologians accounted for this lack of harmony in the soul by assuming an inherent sinfulness of humanity. Man is naturally seditious and insolent toward God. He is contemptuous of all order and restraint. The will has an inborn tendency toward evil. Sin consists in voluntarily carrying independence beyond all limits. It is the abuse of freedom.
It is evident that this charge of total depravity is too sweeping. Much of that which is called sin is only a mistake. It often comes from defective judgement rather than from a corrupt heart. Some of that which is called lawlessness is praiseworthy and beneficent in its results. Sometimes it is only a struggle between life and its conditions. It is life attempting to over-come circumstances. Overcoming events often means ascent and spiritual progress. Violation of one law may be for the sake of obedience to a higher law. When this is true transgression is a virtue; sin is a means of salvation. Yet it must be confessed that much of the lawlessness of mankind is not of that high character. Many of the acts of the will are an arbitrary abuse of its power. Man often wills to do, not what he ought, but what he wishes. It would be well for mankind to learn that the greatest usefulness and greatest happiness of life are found within prescribed boundaries. Some such message as this human experience delivers to each generation:
“The arena of thy action is large, but it is not infinite. Living fully within its bounds, happiness awaits thee. Going beyond them, thou shalt be en-compassed by fear and sorrow. Thou shalt be banished from Eden. Its gates closed, flashing swords will guard them against thy return. Hear, O Mortals, and be-ware!”
Power and fame are not to be despised. Coming as incidents and accompaniments of faithful work, they are a worthy crown of any life. It is not so when they are made the only object of life and everything else is sacrificed to gain them. Jesus is famous and Napoleon is famous, but with what a difference! One would not so much as harm a bird; the other purchased his fame by the death of thousands of his fellow-men. Ambition may well stir the heart of youth, but it should not become an absorbing passion. Power is good; but true nobility will not only acquire power but will acquire power over power. Over- the first gate of an ancient temple was written: “Be bold,” Over the second was written: “Be bold, be bold, ever-more be bold.” Over the third gate guarding the sac-red mysteries was written: “But be not too bold,” So life may be pictured. Over its first gate the youth may see written: “Get power.” Over the second: Get power, get power, evermore get power.” Coming to the third he should pause and reflect over the sentence: “But get not too much power.” There is a path of ambition leading to the heights of use and grandeur. Followed too far it leads down to shame aad graves of dishonor.
In the quiet church yard a poet recalled many lying there who might have achieved greatness but for the unfavorable circumstances surrounding them in life. There must have been tears in his heart when he wrote:
“Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.”
But when he reflected that, if the grave held their power to do good it also kept them from all possible evil, it may be his tears were arrested and his pity changed to gladness.
“The applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,
Their lot forbade; nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.”
Compared with some of those who have gone for-ward and filled the world with their names these whose budding powers were arrested by an early grave are much more worthy of remembrance. They are not so much to be pitied as to be loved. All who have grasped at power and position, at the expense of right, would have been better off had they early slept in a quiet churchyard. This is equally true of the Alexanders and Napoleons of the past and the unscrupulous millionaire politicians of the present.
The uses of riches are many and noble. Only a mind capable of a very defective logic would indulge in untempered denunciation of those who have gained great wealth. Rightly acquired and wisely used money is valuable. It is not a destroyer, but a builder of Paradise. To those who out of their earnings make a better home, creating an atmosphere of beauty within and without; to those who each year compel the expense to fall within their income, thus accumulating a surplus with which to further growing aims, gratify refining tastes, and banish want from old age, only praise can be given.
But wealth has a forbidden tree of which if a life eat it will surely die. When existence is given wholly to the accumulation of money it is only a matter of time until the gates of Eden are closed behind it. How sorrowful, how shameful are some of the pages of history being written in these days! All over our land are those who are ready to sacrifice everything to wealth. Placing them in the balance against it, money outweighs freedom, home, friendship, character.
Incidents like the following are painfully familiar: In the city or state a man is chosen to fill an office of public trust. Much money must be used in bettering the condition of the city or in carrying forward state enterprises. After a time some kind of reckoning is required. Then it appears that this official has accepted money to defraud the city or commonwealth whose interests he had promised to protect. Then there is a spasm of public indignation. Arrest may follow, if it has not been made impossible by flight of the guilty man. Then the law’s delay intervenes. The money falsely acquired is made more false by being used to prevent justice from coming too near. To what wicked uses money may be devoted! It is estimated that within twenty five years more than a hundred millions of dollars have been paid to the New York police by vicious men and women to purchase their silence and non-interference. Money may be a blessing, but when it is used to buy votes from the illiterate and vicious at a caucus or to corrupt justice and shield the bribe-taker it more nearly resembles a curse than a blessing. Can an honorable statesmanship, a high manhood result from such methods? It can when the order of nature is reversed.
Liberty is much praised, but in itself it is not a benefit. The liberty of the Arab to plunder, of the pirate to sink and burn, of the Indian to kill is not a glorious thing. Liberty is only valuable when it means the removal of all obstacles lying in the way of accomplishing right things. Man loves music; liberty permits him to enjoy it. He loves home and education; liberty breaks down all barriers between him and these blessed objects. Man has larger liberty than the animal world; but, as sometimes used, it brings disaster instead of happiness. The little bird can fly from the tree to a spring. Man has more freedom. He can go to a spring or to a saloon for his drink. The deer is free to roam through the woods. It has no liberty to become a drunkard or a miser or a bribe-taker. Man alone is free to do this. He alone can select some sad way of sin and shame and death. The picture of those two forms moving away from Eden suggests what tremendous issues hang upon acts of the human will. Choice is destiny. Before every life, at times, are slightly divergent roads. With these two ways opening before each mortal, it is not surprising that long ago it was inferred that they terminate in different places. All lying beyond this life, in detail, no one knows. But if the actual is any guide to the probable, it may be assumed that wherever human life may find itself it will be under law. The soul will always possess enough of freedom to climb toward the heights or sink toward the depths. Once it was thought that all happiness came from without. Some angel brought it from heaven. All evil was from without. Some satan brought it from hell. Now it seems to be all within. It is superficial to say that the fear of hell created conscience. It is much more probable that conscience created the fear of hell. The words of Lucifer in the drama are taken from the great volume of human experience.
“Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell, myself am hell
And in the lowest depth a lower deep
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”
Man is thus the destroyer of his own paradise. If one dared, how this might be illustrated from personal observation ! We can all recall those who, having gone beyond the forbidden line, found themselves out-side the closed gates of Eden. Denied this method of illustration, we may ask the aid of literature. Read the Greek Tragedies; read Faust and Eugene Aram; read Romola and Villa Eden. They all teach the one lesson, that justice finally reckons with every transgressor. In the hour when wrong seems triumphant, the form of justice may not appear to be present. But, when the hour is past, there, calm, but austere her face is seen looking down from the throne and no part of the penalty is remitted. Then come shame and tears and terror and the heart feels as if it might be doomed to dwell under the shadow of eternal sorrow.
As earth can grow the violet and the nettle, so life has the power to grow happiness and misery. This lesson cannot be too early learned. The secret of life consists in passing by all its poisons and selecting the food that earth furnishes. The wisdom of the ages teaches that there can be no true success except in obedience to the sacred laws. Every act of the human will must lie within the borders of a divine approval.
To have fully learned this lesson and to have em-bodied it in life is to have found the way of greatest usefulness. Is this way difficult? It may seem so at first; but, mastered, the difficulties decrease and finally disappear. But, easy or difficult, let every youth be assured that it is the only road leading to a complete victory and a lasting happiness. Every step brings him nearer the open gate of an eternal Paradise.