Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Jesus.
It has been more customary to represent Jesus as a supernatural savior from inherited sin than as a natural teacher and personal example of a high morality. This is partly an error. His words refer much more to conduct in the present than to salvation in the future. They contain a noble philosophy of life. Students of the natural world pass from the special to the universal; they group many facts under one principle. That is what he did in the moral world. Although made of many different threads and revealing many colors in its pattern, he taught that the fabric of life is all one piece. The sole end and aim of existence is the final enthronement of the ideal virtue. Day and night, wind that blows and grass that grows, Solomon in his palace, and lilies in their field, are for instruction to mortals in the art of living wisely and nobly. In his search for good man is not to halt with house or food or raiment or power or wealth or learning. These are only steps by which he ascends. He must press onward toward the ideal good called the Kingdom of God.
In its application, knowledge assumes many forms. In our estimate of the origin and meaning and use of the facts of nature, temperament plays an important part. Man as farmer, and man as artist cannot find the same thing in a landscape. The forest to a lumberman and the forest to a hunter awakens a different set of instincts and reflections.
Thus the spiritual theories of Jesus are the result of his personality coming in contact with the world. Herbert Spencer regarded the universe as a product of measureless and persistent force. Humboldt saw it as a manifestation of order. Burns perceived the same facts and turned them into poetry. Plotinus saw the same world and turned it into reveries and ecstacies. Euclid made it into squares and lines and angles. Plato traced everything to the Absolute and formed a philosophy of being. Jesus saw God as the cause and virtue as the aim of all life, and a spiritual religion is the result.
Strictly speaking, there are no purely abstract truths. Burke said: “If followed far enough the smallest object is beheld extending into infinity.” If so, then by a reversal of this process, infinity must extend to the smallest object. The ideal is the real projected. The real is the ideal temporarily lowering itself to actual conditions in order that finally they may be raised. It stoops to conquer. If a thing is not practical, it is non-existent. Held in the mind, the multiplication table is a theory; but all the bargaining of the world is builded upon it. Geometry exists first as an idea only in the mind; but it is also an actual means by which the near farm and the far-off galaxy are measured. On one side we are related to theory; on the other to practice. Every deed is a thought in action, an ideal realized. Thus the philosophy of Palestine should not be swept aside, because it seems impracticable. We must not forget that formerly there were those on earth to whom a republic and steam navigation and the electric telegraph and human liberty and a peace congress were impracticable. Of one thing we may be sure: The nobler our philosophy, the nobler our conduct will be. Only a high purpose can lift a heart out of the common dust.
As food and air are to the body, so is conviction to character. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Opinions may be loosely held,
“As an infant’s hand
Holds purposeless whatso is placed therein.”
They may be superficially attached, may be mere temporary decorations,like flowers separated from their native stem. Thus their effect upon character is often light and transient. It is not so with convictions. They are organic; their effect is deep and permanent. Literally, a conviction is that which has conquered us.
As plants, by their feeble or vigorous growth, show the kind of soil into which they have struck their roots, so surely do our acts reveal the kind of intellectual and moral food upon which our souls nourish themselves. Although their titles remain unmentioned, we may know by his conversation what books a man has read; so we may know by his unstudied deeds what is the prevailing trend of his character. Our real creeds are not so much in Catechisms or Confessions as in our lives. These we cannot conceal. Rest assured that if our purpose be low or our hearts indifferent or cowardly, it will be found out. Although we may advertise that we have the zeal of reformers and the faith of martyrs, it will avail nothing. Every mask is transparent at last. The original meaning of the term person is “sounding through.” Thus true personality sounds through all disguises. That which is within, sooner or later comes out. Alexander could not long be mistaken for Socrates, nor Socrates for Alexander, though we should find the one barefoot in the market place talking of truth and temperance and the other clothed and armed in a tent talking of conquest. Very soon the true character of each would break through. Doing is crystallized being.
Work is worthy ; but a great part of its worth is due to the intention back of it. A high purpose may ennoble a common, while a low purpose may degrade an uncommon task. Martyrdom, suffered for purely selfish ends, becomes mean.
A gifted woman has written:
Pursue a frivolous trade by serious means
Than a sublime art frivolously.”
The vain and foolish man, though he may be on a throne, is still a vain and foolish man; while Alfred, baking cakes in a wayside hut, was still a king. The great man, whatever his task may be, instantly brings it up to his own stature. The pusillanimous man, whatever it may be, instantly makes his office seem pusillanimous. Called a king, Herod made a throne seem ridiculous. Called a criminal, Jesus made a cross seem glorious.
When the question, “Is life worth living?” is being debated, the decision might well be postponed until one has asked himself: How and for what am I living? When a man does his work grudgingly, when his soul no longer flows into his performance, when he is content to be merely a part of a machine, if he is a time-server and has no interest in his task beyond the money it brings, then life hardly seems worth while. Re-fused alms, an importunate beggar said to Samuel Johnson : “But I must live !” The plain-spoken Doctor replied: “I do not see the least necessity for it.” Life is only worth living when it is lived worthily.
How foolish for cities to boast of the number of their inhabitants ! Is there any city that would not be better in every way, if the rate of population were lower and the rank were higher? It was the ten righteous men, could they have been found, not the ten thousand unrighteous men, alas! easily found, who would have saved Sodom. Not the number, but the kind of men makes Thermopylæ memorable in the annals of time. Let us not ask how many millions now compose our nation, but how many of the millions are animated by high purposes?
Our impulsive President says “a man is a poor kind of American who is not stirred by a pro-cession of battle-ships. The spectacle ought to increase his patriotism.” It seems like a strange test of one’s patriotism. It might be quite possible for a man to be a very good American and be much more stirred by sight of all the peaceful industries, the schools and colleges, and thou-sands of happy homes in our country than by a fleet of war-ships. Not armies and navies, but national integrity, justice for all its citizens, and a peaceful solution of all social problems should increase our patriotism. Not the victories gained by guns on land or sea, but the triumphs of truth, of moral ideas, of the higher over the lower will make our country more loved, because it is more lovable, and this alone will give it a mortgage on the centuries yet to come.
The indefinable quality called genius is a notable possession. Nevertheless, in itself, it is not able to make a noble life career. Unguided by wisdom and uninspired by a lofty purpose, it may leave a kind of ruin in its train. It is a sun with power to warm and illuminate a world. But if, as in the accustomed fable, its flaming chariot be driven by some rash Phaeton it will burn instead of warm; blind instead of enlighten; and, instead of fruitful fields, will leave a desert in its track. Controlled, power is a friend; uncontrolled, it is an enemy. Air presses upon earth with a weight which Atlas could not bear; and yet it is so equally distributed that it does not crush the petal of a rose. Yet sometimes it becomes a hurricane that sweeps towns and forests away as if they were so much dust. Electricity will light our homes and run on all our errands,the quickest and quietest messenger in the world. But there are times when, having become a thunderbolt, it shatters everything in its course. Thus genius may bless or blast a life. In the material world there must be proportion between speed and distance; between the magnitude of the mass and the length of the lever. We do not ask a tortoise to carry express across the continent; nor do we use a sledge-hammer to tack down our carpets. So, in the moral world, power and purpose should be adjusted. To whom great intellect is given, should also be given a lofty aim.
Long life is valuable only to the wise and good. Eighty years are a great inheritance. But, like all riches, its value depends upon its use. Our world is not a series of chances in which every-thing depends upon a lucky throw. It is arranged upon a scale of inevitable cause and effect. The youth to whom a fortune is bequeathed has splendid opportunities lying in wait for him. If he is foolish or vicious the opportunities disappear. So the inheritance of eighty years is only valuable to him who is animated by a lofty motive. Thus as neither work alone nor genius alone, so long life alone cannot make good the absence of a divine philosophy of life.
The word “culture” is upon many lips in these passing days. But what is culture? It is not so much an outer display as an inner condition. Doubtless certain conventionalities and conformity to prescribed rules in social conduct are essential. That something called good manners is desirable. But all this may be present while genuine culture is absent. Our conduct should be the blossoming of an internal principle. The most considerate, the most unselfish, the most tender, the most generous, the most regardful of others’ rights is the best mannered person.
“Kind hearts are more than coronets
And simple faith than Norman blood”
Culture comes from character, not from reputation. The moral sentiment lies beneath it. Can a man of true culture deliberately seek his own good at the expense of others? Then Captain Kidd was a man of culture. In education, teacher and pupil are only in the right way when, in company, they pursue the path of goodness. This is the final aim of all education. This is the Kingdom of God to be first sought. Power, repuation, social standing, prizes and diplomas and degrees are only things added thereto. When this is the aim of education it becomes an ally of the Divine Providence. Teachers are agents and ministers of the wisdom that comes from above. Through them the youth is brought into contact with the impersonal Goodness which alone gives coherence to society and whose triumph alone can solve the mystery of the world. Themselves endowed with believing, with upward looking souls, they not only instruct, but inspire those who come under their care. They not only see clearly that rules of text books should be learned and applied, but that rules of life, not printed in any book, but ineffaceably graven in the nature of things should be learned and practiced. They are not only technical and special; they are spiritual and universal. Knowing that God enters the temple of life through many doors, they unlock all of them, leaving them ready to swing inward at His approach.
How widespread is knowledge ! Historical re-search, reports of travelers, facts and laws found and communicated by those active in the realms of sciencegeologists, archaeologists, chemists, ethnologists, philologists, astronomersall brought to public notice by means of books, magazines, newspapers, lectures, schools and colleges, all this, in information, makes our era marvelous. The only thing over which some doubt might be expressed is whether this accumulation of learning that has fallen upon the mind of this generation may not be weighing heavily upon the spiritual intuitions and creative instincts of the heart. Sometimes it seems that the thing called literature is more measured by its wealth-making power than by its ability to rise into purity of language, elevated sentiment, and its power to awaken lofty impulses in the reading millions. In many cases the pulpit is measured by its effect upon the pew-rent rather than for its spiritual influence. Perhaps preachers were never before so well educated; but whether they are more a power in stir-ring noble impulses and urging society forward in pursuit of moral ideals will admit much questioning. It is sad if, as information rises, inspiration declines.
No one need frame a wholesale indictment of our age. In many ways it compels admiration. Its great merchants, great manufacturers, great bankers, great managers of railways are all necessary. All that is asked is that other forms of greatness, no less necessary, be not ignored. Many of the best minds of the age are caught and carried along in the stream of tendency, sweeping resistlessly through our land, which promises the largest income. Perhaps that is one reason why the present generation has produced no great dramatist, no great poet, no great apostle of liberty, no great preacher, no great prophet of the soul. In our search for other things the ultimate aim of life itself has been too much neglected. We scheme for the near and tangible. Millions in civilized lands are hurrying to and fro, alternating between hope and dread concerning the outcome of some plan. Like children with a new toy or a new pleasure of any kind, they are elated if their plan succeeds and bursts into grief if it fails. The sovereigns of Europe and the great and small statesmen of America watching each other with jealous eye! Small natures, everywhere, and in all callings, who never for an instant rise above that which is of profit to themselves! Masters of gigantic corporations so steeped in selfishness that they seek their own good at the whole world’s cost!
We would rather understate than exaggerate the case. But let each one draw his own portrait of the world of mankind as he sees it in its every-day pursuit of that which it most desires. It is not by any means all bad. But one’s moral demands must be very feeble if it is perfectly satisfactory to him. Perhaps, as humanity is constituted, the test is too high and too exacting. But to be painfully reminded of the defects in the portrait one only needs to glance at the actual moral condition and the pursuits of the Christian world and then repeat the words: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness!”
No one is equal to the task of reforming humanity at large. But each one can do something to reform that component part of humanity called “self.” He can make his own pursuit more honorable; his own motives nobler; his own soul more divine. Whether it be unbelief or indifference or selfishness or a low content with trifles, whatever takes moral enthusiasm away from a life robs it of something which nothing else can supply. Prudence is necessary. There must be adaptation of present means to accomplish concrete and near results. But mind and heart need not be employed all the time for these ends. They should take many an excursion out among the great fields of God where justice is deemed of more importance than success; where righteousness surpasses riches; where thought of a great Friend in the sky and the dream of immortality are more precious than all the wealth and all the learning of the world.
As far as possible it would be well for every one to make the Palestine philosophy the motive and guide of life. It does not bring art or knowledge or wealth; but it does bring something with-out which art and knowledge and riches lose much of their value. Many fail, in part, to find how sweet and impressive the whole music of life may be. All they hear is a monotone sounding from one string of the great harp. There should be times when all are glad to listen to the full harmony of existence, composed of earth-notes and sky-notes, and is equally entrancing on either side of the grave.
Oh this voice from Nazareth and Calvary ! It reminds us that we are not alone creatures that need food and raiment, but beings who need truth and honor and love. It tells us that our hearts should never become dulled with low content, but should’ throb with unstilled desire for that which is beyond and above. It bids us remember that art may become an inspiration; wealth a benevolence; learning a divine power; work a sacrament; earth one, heaven another and greater opportunity for duty, for growth, and for joy!