The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20
The Two Great Commandments
The Two Great Commandments.
We are frequently asked what are the doctrines taught, and the duties inculcated, by "higher intelligences" who communicate with us. The following lecture, emanating from Them, supplies an answer:—
Upon a knowledge of God's commandments—which their Almighty Author has inscribed upon the book of nature and in our own consciences—depends man's happiness, both here and hereafter. For that knowledge precedes and presupposes obedience to them; inasmuch as, when it is perfectly understood how wise, how beautiful, how harmonious, and how beneficial they are, obedience will follow as a matter of course. Their harmony and adaptability to men's wants and to the circumstances of their daily lives, commend themselves to our finite minds with irresistible force. They are found to have been devised by infinite wisdom, guided by infinite love. They are the fruit or divine foresight operating in and for the benefit of mankind. To obey them is happiness; to disobey them is misery. Man, in his natural frame, is like an exquisitely constructed piece of machinery, and if this were superintended and controlled—as it was originally fashioned—by reason, it would go on working with the most efficacious results, until he attained the full term of four-score years. If, unhappily, it becomes deranged at a much earlier period, and falls to pieces far short of the natural span of human life, the creature is alone to blame. Sickness and vice are not inherent in our nature. They spring from ignorance and abuse. God has given to each of us a wonderfully compacted structure of blood, bone, flesh, muscle, and nerve. Properly handled, this admirable framework would become more and more enduring from generation to generation, because each would be an improvement upon its predecessor. Every one of us would enter on his new existence not merely with the mental attainments he brought with him from a former life, but also with a frame superior to that possessed by his predecessors. Thus, then, you will perceive that not merely does each one of us inflict a positive injury upon himself by his ignorance or his violation of natural laws, but that he transmits the consequences of his ignorance or of that violation to those who come after him.
Love of God begets knowledge. It is, we are told, "the beginning of wisdom;" and knowledge begets faith. Necessarily so, because it is impossible, to know God's laws without at the same time reposing the most illimitable trust in His wisdom, justice, and goodness. Ordinarily speaking, you will observe, the process is reversed. Men are taught to believe, or to repeat, certain abstract propositions and mysterious formulae—and this is expected to serve as the groundwork of knowledge. The foundations being laid in error, what can we expect from the superstructure? A faith in the Trinity, for example, conducts a man to certain impious conceptions of the Almighty Father. It induces him to derogate from the unique power of the great "I Am." The supreme authority is divided between three mystical persons, each of whom is supposed to be coequal with the other. By-and-bye this figment of the human brain is supplemented by the idea of a devil—a power antagonistic to, and in habitual rebellion against, the Most High, whose Omnipotence is thus actually impeached. For to imagine that any absolute monarch, even upon this earth, would tolerate the co-existence of an evil pretender to his throne, constantly engaged in seducing his subjects from their allegiance and in dragging them away to a loathsome dungeon—makes a greater demand upon human credulity than many of the most do-graded superstitions of the most benighted savages. Then, again, a physical devil necessitates the imagination of a physical hell—a place of un-speakable torment, into which are supposed to descend the souls of all those who have been al-lured from their lawful allegiance to the rightful and only true Sovereign of the Universe; and who are kept there, bound in everlasting chains, with no hope of ultimate release. And all this goes on, we are told, in defiance of the authority, and in despite of the beneficence, of the great Being whom our intellectual instincts assure us to be as Infinite in love, as he is Supreme in power. Surely a belief of this kind is only paganism rebaptised.
But ignorance and superstition do not stop here. They do not scruple to defame the character and to defile the name of the Most High, by attributing to him the meanest passions of his meanest creatures. They make him jealous, revengeful, capricious, bloodthirsty, delighting in sacrifices, presiding over battles, authorizing lust and rapine, and sanctioning and encouraging the mutual slaughter of the beings whom he has created. Can you imagine anything more awful, anything more impious, anything more irreligious, anything more blasphemous than this ascription of the base passions and sanguinary deeds of human beings to Him who sitteth in the heavens; and before whose power, purity, wisdom, and Almighty Love, man must stand in reverential awe and silent adoration: wondering and grateful for the divine gift of reason, whereby we have been enabled to apprehend and perceive, as through a glass darkly, these glorious attributes of our common Father.
Yes, Father! In that one word is summed up the beautiful relationship in which he stands to each of us. As a Father, he counsels, teaches, guides, and instructs us. As a Father, he conducts our steps through the infant stages of our multiform existence. As a Father, he feeds us with knowledge, imparting it in proportion to our growth and capacity, as well here, as heretofore, and hereafter. As a Father, he is with us always, and everywhere, tenderly considerate of our infirmities, long-suffering under circumstances of great provocation—as we should think them—and fulfilling towards us every duty that the most loving, the most benignant, and the most exemplary human parent could possibly discharge towards his offspring.page 10
And does this imply no corresponding obligation, as of sonship, on our part? Setting aside the debt—the unspeakably heavy debt of gratitude we owe him "for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life," is it not incumbent upon us to make ourselves acquainted with his laws, and, having ascertained them, to ensue them with all diligence and zeal? Even upon that odious principle of selfishness, which some philosophers have made the basis—the hideous basis of all human actions, should we not feel impelled to make His commandments our study, and obedience to them our delight? For in that knowledge and in that obedience lies the root of earthly happiness. And do not let us entertain the erroneous conviction that happiness is something alien to human life. Granted that it is continually eluding men's grasp, what does that prove? That the mode of search—the method of the chase—is wholly erroneous. Doubtless humanity has its afflictions, but a knowledge of God's laws turns all calamities to blessings. Our friends undergo the change called death; but we know that the separation is only temporary, and that we shall rejoin and recognise them elsewhere. Fortune deserts him, but the wise man who has learned to love, and therefore to know and trust his heavenly Father, accepts all such reverses with a serene mind and a tranquil countenance, because he sees the light behind the cloud.
By the laws of nature, men commonly under-stand the operations of some dumb, monstrous power, directed by a blind intelligence towards an inevitable end with irresistible force. They altogether omit to see that they are simply the laws of God, and, as such, are governed by the perfection of wisdom for the most beneficent of purposes. Obedience to them, I repeat, is perfect happiness; violation of them produces disorder and misery. Their authority ought to be supreme, and conformity to them by no means excludes the exercise of man's free will. This is left intact. If its exercise coincides with the will of the Almighty, it is well for the creature. If it is repugnant to that will, it merely delays the fulfilment of the Divine purpose, but does not prevent its ultimate accomplishment. Thus, then, free will and necessity are not incompatible. It is only by taking a narrow and limited view of each, and by forming a confused notion of both, that men have entangled themselves in profitless discussions concerning the alleged conflict of freedom and predestination.
God's purpose, we may be certain, is un-changeable; but it is necessary for the growth and development of man that he should be accorded a large amount of liberty. This might appear at first sight to clash with the higher law and with the Supreme Will; but in reality it does nothing of the sort, and people will understand this more clearly when they comprehend how small is the proportion which the period of time embraced in what we call human life, or in one human life, bears to the sum of each existence, and how every man has repeated opportunities of retrieving those errors, by the commission of which, he has been enabled to delay, but not, in the end, to counteract, the supremely beneficent objects of Almighty Wisdom.
To understand natural law—or, in the language of Scripture, the commandments of God, there are three things which demand to be studied, and they are these:—to know what we are, where we are, and whether we are going.
As to the first: It is incumbent upon each of us to acquire an intimate acquaintance with our physical structure, with our mental organisation, and with our spiritual nature, so as to provide for the preservation and the healthy growth of all three. A knowledge of the laws of physiology would teach us how to preserve our bodies in such a condition as that they would be absolutely exempt from disease and suffering—both of which are unnatural and abnormal; and would also enable us to obtain the greatest amount of beneficial work out of our frames, and to keep them vigorous and active to the full term of human life, which even now falls far short of what it is capable of reaching under proper conditions of diet, clothing, exercise, and recreation. We should ascertain what food is suitable to us, in what quantities, and how it ought to be prepared. The avoidance of improper diet and drink would become intuitive, as it were, and we should religiously shun excesses of all kinds. The mere consciousness of existence, under such circumstances, would become at all times and in all conditions of life, an absolute blessing. We should find new and unnumbered sources of happiness and enjoyment opening to us; and the passions which now deprave and degrade humanity would die out for want of aliment. Our wearing apparel would be simple and suitable; not necessarily devoid of beauty and propriety, so as to deprive the eye of its legitimate gratification, but free from costliness and extravagance. Fashion would no longer be the grotesque and merciless tyrant it is, and so many thousands of lives which now perish by the needle just as effectually as if that household implement were a sharp sword or a poisoned arrow, would no longer be offered up on the altars of that hideous idol. Neither would some men pamper their appetites with all sorts of food, in all sorts of disguises, and with all sorts of stimulating and vitiating condiments, while so many of our fellow creatures perish of starvation, or slowly wither away, by reason of the insufficiency and the innutritious character of the food upon which they subsist. Most of the vices and crimes which now afflict society, and all insanity, would disappear; for to a perfectly healthy body, inhabited by a perfectly healthy mind, and animated by a progressive spirit, all these evils would be impossibilities.
Then, again, the understanding of what we are, would also involve the study of the human mind, and the comprehension of its laws, processes, and capabilities. Men would neither permit its powers to lie latent and undeveloped, on the one hand.; nor would they overtask them, on the other. There would be fewer prodigies of learning, no doubt, because scholars and students would be less disposed to bury themselves amidst the dust, the mould and mildew of the past. They would discover that to each generation is given its appropriate teachers, and that nine-tenths of the literature that is now extant, howsoever valuable at the time it was written, and howsoever useful to the people for whom it was written, possesses very little, if page 11 any, value or utility for us or for our times. Although there is a limited number of works—monumental structures—beacon lights along the shores of time—which enjoy an undying freshness, and a perpetual power of chaining and instructing mankind. But, with these exceptions, much of the literature of past ages is rather an injury than a benefit to our own. It is so because scholars and students, instead of giving us original thought, chow the ideas of dead men, and present them to us in a sort of innutritious and amorphous paste.
In nature, you will observe, there is nothing retrospective or retrogressive. Everything aspires; everything advances. Progress and ascension are the universal law. The locust, when he casts his shell, does not sit poring over the case in which his limbs were previously enveloped; nor does the butterfly apply itself to a laborious investigation of its former stages of being. When these are done with, both these insects direct all their efforts to the new life upon which they have entered, to the utter neglect and oblivion of the past. And should not this be the case with us? Each of us—as Paul says—"dies daily,"—physically and mentally. The atoms of our body perish—or rather they enter into now forms of matter and new combinations with other substances external to ourselves. This frame of mine is not the frame I wore last year, or last month, or last week. And so with the mind. It is daily and hourly secreting new ideas—daily and hourly excreting such as, in its growth and experience, it has found reason to reject. There-fore, we should study to direct our thoughts to that which lies before us and beyond us—speaking, for the present, of this world only—and "let the dead past bury its dead." That has gone, and those who were responsible for what it was, and for what they made of it, have gone also.
If life were long enough, and if men had sufficient leisure to make themselves masters of the immense amount of so-called book-lore which exists in the world, its study might be tolerated perhaps; but have we not abundant employment for the most active and laborious minds in the study of natural science, in the investigation of the laws of health—of our own intellects, and of the questions which concern us in connexion with the other world, towards which we are all moving?
2. Where we are? With the external beauty of the earth, we are all more or less acquainted; but of its internal structure and utility how little do we know! And yet this knowledge is all-important to us. Without it, we are but as strangers and aliens on the globe we inhabit, for the time we are on it. Its framework should be as familiar to us as the framework of our own bodies. We should then understand that every-thing which we call a phenomenon is, in reality, the product of a law; and that, by knowing these laws, we should not only be enabled to derive the greatest amount of material good from the earth, but should escape the consequences of those calamities and disasters which take the form of shipwrecks, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, avalanches, hurricanes, and so forth. These are not lawless explosions of what we call the forces of nature, but the inevitable results of the operation of certain laws, our ignorance of which exposes us to sufferings and misfortunes. The earth is a great laboratory, created and superintended by Infinite Wisdom, and in proportion as His creatures exercise the Divine gift of reason, which our beneficent Father has bestowed upon each of us, to cultivate and dovelope,—shall we understand the processes, objects, and results, of the work which is going on in that laboratory. For, although we are told that, on the Seventh Day, God rested from his labours, we may be perfectly certain that this was only spoken figuratively. The work of creation—or of evolution—is never suspended—never has been suspended; and, we may assume, with great humility—never will be suspended.
The activity of Almighty Power is incessant and inexhaustible—all-penetrating and all-pervading. It is manifest in the greatest as in the smallest things—in the upheaving of a continent, and in the construction of the minutest insect inhabiting a tiny drop of stagnant water.
In the study of nature, we should all find not only profit but delight. It would yield us the fruits of the earth necessary to our sustenance in greater abundance and variety than we now receive them, and with far less toil. But its chiefest service to us would be that it would elevate our minds ever nearer and nearer to the Great Architect of this amazing universe. We should comprehend, though with such limitations as are necessarily imposed by our finite intelligences, the wonderful love, the illimitable forethought, the magnificent design, the exquisite adaptation of means to ends, and the sublime goodness of our Almighty Father. We should perceive, moreover, that this globe is but the analogue of millions of other globes, many of them superior to our own, and peopled by a superior race of beings, and we should be qualified to understand that great principle of infinite variety of form in unity of type which seems to run through all Creation.
3. And this naturally conducts me to the third part of my subject—Whither we are going. Every man is conscious by the revelation within him—apart from other revelations of varying authority and authenticity, that he enfolds an immortal principle—a "Me," perfectly independent of, distinct from, and superior to, the physical structure he inhabits. But, practically, this consciousness is belied and suppressed by his material longings, feelings, and desires. He knows that he is immortal by an intellectual instinct—by a spiritual intuition. To deny it is almost to forego his title to be considered a rational being. An atheist is something abnormal in the human family—a lusus naturae, an object of wonder and commiseration, but not of condemnation, any more than we should condemn a two-headed calf. Our immortality rests on grounds more impregnable and indestructible than even the truths of science. It is testified to by an inner voice, speaking in accents no louder than a whisper, but with a power exceeding that of the deep-voiced thunder.
But if we ask what influence this conviction of our immortality exercises upon the daily lives of each of us, the answer is a painful and humiliating one. And why? Because intellectual assent does not ripen into living conduct. "The world is too much with us, late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our power." page 12 Its realities—if, indeed, they are realities—are so much more vivid to us than the realities of the world to come. We occupy ourselves with the little ant-hill which is the present scene of our labours, our ambitions, and our enjoyments, precisely the same as if there were nothing beyond that ant-hill—no succession of endless ages awaiting us in the inevitable future, no ascending grades of existence, compared with the lowest of which, the highest objects of human aspiration are worthless and contemptible. And then—when the hour arrives that comes to all—when the monarch has to lie down with the beggar, and the philosopher with the ploughboy—when this body has to be resolved into its constituent elements, and the spirit is about to set forth on its journey to that land which is commonly supposed to be the unknowable, and the light of another world begins to gleam through the chinks and crevices of the decaying structure we have clung to with such a foolish fondness, God gives us a glimpse of what might have been possible here—if we had only chosen to listen to the voice within us—and we either undergo re-incarnation, or we expiate, in a temporary place of probation, punishment and discipline hereafter, our incredible blindness and perversity in not having studied His laws on earth, and in having refused to acknowledge that—in the language of the Book of Ecclesiastes—this is "the conclusion of the whole matter:—Love God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
All natural laws, then, are ordained by our Almighty Father for the preservation and progression of the creatures. We are called upon to investigate and learn them because the process is beneficial to us. He does not ask us for a blind obedience to them, but for one founded upon a rational apprehension of their beauty and utility. He does not say to us, "Do this, because it is my Supremo Will;" but "Do this, after having first ascertained, on your part, that the doing of it is essential to your health and happiness—to your welfare here, and to your eternal progress hereafter. My service should be one of love, enlightened by reason. Obedience is happiness, because My laws have all been framed in wisdom, working for wise and beneficent ends." And the more closely these laws are investigated, and the more completely they are understood, the greater is our admiration, and the profounder our adoration of their Creator. We are drawn towards the fountain and source of Infinite Love by love itself. We perceive that the whole created universe is pervaded, penetrated, sustained, and bound together by this great principle. Science reveals, and experience confirms, it. We look up to Him through His works and we exclaim—as he is represented to have declared of old—Behold they are very good." We discover the omnipresence and incessant activity of law—law in the construction of a solar system—law in the population of a drop of water with its myriads of animated beings. Nothing is too great for His Supreme Power to undertake and construct—nothing too minute for His paternal Providence to oversee, protect, and preserve.
We look within ourselves and we learn that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We! read in the brain of the infant, and in its successive stages of development, the early history of our race. We watch the changes which its skull undergoes, and we discover in them the cranial growth of the human head, ethnologically considered. The more closely we study the anatomy of our own bodies the more forcibly are we struck by the evidences they present of wonderful design, of an exquisite adaptation of means to ends, of amazing foresight and infinite knowledge. They inform us from what and whence we came, just as our minds—even more wonderful in their construction and operation—premonish us whither we are going. And in harmony with the complicated simplicity of our bodies—all referable to a few archetypes, and all agreeing in regard to general structure, functions, and purpose, is the complicated simplicity of life imposed upon us in order to keep both mind and body in perfect health and rational activity. By complicated simplicity must be understood that variety in unity which runs through all the works of nature. For example, our diet should be simple as well as sufficient; but this does not preclude the wise and temperate use of the infinite number of fruits and other natural products which have been furnished for our aliment and enjoyment by a bounteous Providence. So, too, with respect to the mind while its operations should be conducted in obedience to one uniform law, and therefore governed by simplicity and regularity, and coherency of procedure, the field of its activity is, humanly speaking, unlimited.
And so, also, in the multiform relations of man, living in society with his fellow men, the rule of conduct and the bond of union are both simple in the extreme. They are summed up in one golden sentence, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And in the fulfilment of this precept, we experience the beneficent working of a principle of enlightened selfishness. This will not be the motive, but it is nevertheless the result. What we do, we do for the benefit of our fellow creatures, but it is reflected upon ourselves. Every good deed is retroactive in its operation. Like mercy, it is twice blessed. It blesseth him who gives and him who receives. To make others happy, is to take the most effectual means of securing our own happiness; just as to promote or restore the healthful condition of any one member of our body, is to contribute to the healthful condition of the whole frame. For humanity, however, we may regard it, is not many, but one. Its principle is unity, its manifestation is variety. We each belong to it, and are each just as inseparably united with it, as is the hand with the arm, or the foot with the leg. By labouring for it, we labour for ourselves. We cannot advance its growth, promote its welfare, or strive for its elevation, without indirectly advancing our own. As is its condition in the bulk, such is it in the individual sample. It is not something which lies outside ourselves, which is foreign to our interests, sentiments, and feeling, but something with which we are absolutely incorporated. This is the truth, probably, which was discerned by the French philosopher who proposed to establish what he called a "religion of humanity." There is a religion of humanity, in the sense of a bind- page 13 ing up and of A binding together of the whole human race. Whatever may be the diversities of language and aspect, exhibited by the various members of the great family of mankind, there is this principle of unity running through the whole of them,—that they are all the children of one Father, all immortal, all tending towards the same coal, and all capable of the same progression, both here and hereafter. Hence, the higher the level of average humanity, the higher that of the individual constituent of the mass. The more we can do to lift our fellow creatures out of the mire of ignorance and animalism, the more serviceable we shall be in urging forward the whole human race along that path of progression which it has occupied centuries upon centuries in toilfully struggling along, but which will seem much shorter and much less arduous, in proportion as we are the better equipped for the journey by knowledge and foresight—knowledge of the road and foresight of the goal.
Thus, then, we arrive at this great principle, that all mankind are interdependent, and that no one can live by or for himself. He must rely on others for the satisfaction of most of his wants, and those others must in like manner be dependent upon him for services which they are in-capable of rendering to themselves. Ignorance of, or indifference to this fact is the cause of so many errors in public policy and private conduct,—of so many of the wars which desolate the world, and of so much of the misery and suffering which those wars entail. Once let us feel the solidarity of the human family, and that family will live as one household. We recognise the principle, you know, in the foundation and establishment of communities. The tribe is but an extension of the family, and the nation is but an expansion of the tribe. Why should not humanity, in like manner, become an extension of the fundamental principle of the household? What is more beautiful than domestic life when the members of a family are knit together by the ties of affection and esteem? What mutual respect and fondness are displayed, what delicate consideration, what a spirit of cheerful self-denial, what an anxiety to please, what a prompt putting forth of strength to succour weakness, and of compassion to alleviate suffering, and what a spirit of kindness and conciliation are manifested in the daily life and in the hourly relations of such a family! How strong it becomes in its union, how exemplary in its influence, how happy in its homely history! Do you suppose that what is practicable—what, in-deed, is so often visible—in the family circle, is incapable of being realised in the nation, and among the whole human race,—which is but a bundle of nations? What is to prevent it? What does actually prevent it? An absence of the principle of love to our neighbour, and the want of that knowledge of ourselves and of God's laws, which would spring from the development of that principle in each of us.
Take any one of the causes which separate nation from nation, whether fiscal policy or political ambition, the thirst for martial glory or the greed of territorial aggrandisement. Analyse it, and trace its operations. Does it not take its rise in ignorance or animalism? And is it ever productive of real happiness, or of lasting advantage to the nation Itself, or to the master minds by whom that nation is conducted into war or desolation. Need I point out to you the history of France from the rise of the first Napoleon to his death at St. Helena? What did France gain by that series of wonderful achievements on the field of battle from Austerlitz to Jena? Did she retain the territory she had conquered, or could she recover the blood and treasure which she had squandered in so many sanguinary engagements?
Compare the map of France in 1872 with that of the same nation in 1789. Compare her in-debtedness then, with what it is now. Follow her great military commander into exile, and ask him if he was happy. Here was a soldier of fortune who had set his foot upon the neck of subject-kings, who had made crowns and sceptres his playthings, who had given away thrones, as other potentates distribute orders and ribbons, and who had become the wonder and terror of the civilised world. And yet look at him on his lonely rock in the ocean—an eagle with bedraggled plumes and broken claws—morose, petulant, peevish, and petty, quarrelling with his gaoler about points or punctilio, and sullenly surveying, from his place of exile, the complete overthrow of the Imperial fabric he had built up, the dissipation of all his dreams of founding an imperishable dynasty, and the compulsory restitution to the smallest of the States he had conquered and pillaged, of the very booty he had carried away from them, in order to enrich the sumptuous capital of France, with the fruits of rapine and the trophies of victory.
Here was a magnificent animal!—but an animal only: a man who deliberately ignored God's presence in the world, who rebelled against his natural laws, and who shattered himself and his ambition to pieces, in the mad endeavour to resist or to set them aside. Contrast the life of this gigantic homicide with that of Oberlin, the simple-minded, truth-seeking and God-loving Swiss pastor, and tell me which you would rather have been—Napoleon the Great, or Oberlin the obscure?
Let us remember this, that whenever we seek to obtain happiness—or what we imagine to be such—at the expense of our fellow creatures, it not only eludes our grasp, but it proves to be a source of pain, dissatisfaction, discontent, and disappointment to us. But when we endeavour to arrive at the same end by doing good to others, we invariably find what we seek; and the greater the amount of good we do, the more abundant is the happiness reflected on ourselves. I suppose it has happened to most of us in the course of our lives, to have been moved by an impulse of benevolent enthusiasm, or touched by a pathetic tale of sorrow, and to have measured the relief we afforded rather by our estimate of the sufferer's great need than of our own capacity to alleviate it; so that the act of kindness has necessitated some exercise of self-denial known only to ourselves. Let me ask the most worldly-minded, if he ever experienced any sense of pleasure so exquisite as that which glowed within him when he reflected on what he had done, and when he recalled to mind the eyes of the afflicted glistening with tears of gratitude, page 14 his heart melting with emotion, and his voice tremulously essaying to utter the thanks he might feel but could not adequately express. Was not this a real glimpse of heaven? Did it not reveal to the donor himself possibilities of good within his own nature, of which he scarcely suspected the existence, and sources of happiness which were absolutely without alloy?
Now, imagine the feeling which promoted the benevolent action to be constantly influencing us in our daily lives, and what would be the result? An enormous and immediate diminution of the vast amount of suffering around us, and an equally immediate and enormous augmentation of the sum of human happiness. For this fulfilment of our duty to our religion would have the natural effect of awakening in him a sense of his duty towards us. Animated and fortified by our example, and moved by our unselfishness, the spendthrift, the drunkard, and the thief would begin to feel that they had no right by their in-temperance, their improvidence, and their spoliation, to wrong their fellow men. The improvident would exclaim, "How can I consent to place myself in the shameful position of leaving my children dependent on the bounty of others, when those others are so active and so disinterested in the discharge of every one of their obligations towards me, and so eager and liberal to alleviate any case of genuine misfortune?"
And thus with all forms of vice, ignorance, and crime, those who now give way to them would, if mankind acted up to the principles of human brotherhood, be driven, in very shame, to relinquish habits and practices which would then appear so hideous and degrading, by comparison with the pure, healthy, and beneficent lives of their fellow men. Nor would the depredations or depravities of what we call the dangerous classes derive that indirect sanction which they now obtain from the malpractices of the classes above them. We all know that, besides that form of intemperance, which finds its punishment at the police court, there are many varieties of it—far grosser in character, and far more pernicious in their consequences which meet with no punishment whatever; but which are actually—to some extent at least—honoured, imitated, and rewarded. Need I enumerate avarice, gluttony, the greed of personal, social, literary, or political distinction, the thirst of applause, the love of dress, and the cravings of sensuality. These are in full force around us, and those who practice the more vulgar vices, or the more vulgar forms of vice, feeling within them a rough instinct of justice, exclaim:—"Why should I be punished for getting intoxicated, or for picking a man's pocket, when the filthy sensualist, the fraudulent trader, and the man who robs hundreds of his fellow creatures by concocting a bubble company, and disseminating falsehoods, is not only not punished, but is honoured, and rewarded; perhaps, even, is selected to assist in making the very laws by which I am adjudged to be fined or imprisoned for the comparatively trivial offence I have committed?"
The principle of love to our neighbour, how-ever, cannot receive its perfect development, until we fully comprehend the unity of the whole human race, and understand that the "family of mankind" is something marc than a conventional expression; that it implies the closest relationship as well as that identity of interest which is felt among the members of the same household. Selfishness, in truth, is a huge mistake; and for this obvious reason, that it misses the very object at which it aims. No selfish man is, or ever was, or ever will be happy. You have only to look at his face to be assured of the fact And yet, what is the aim of all selfishness? Is it not to promote the happiness of the individual, no matter at what sacrifice to the happiness of those who surround him. Show me a man who is supremely selfish and supremely happy, and I will undertake to show you, in return, the philosopher's stone, or to present you with the elixir of life.
It is wisely ordained by our Almighty Father, that no one human being shall arrive at that which is the aim of all humanity, save by the simple, natural, unique, and eternal way of conferring happiness upon others. In proportion as this is done, in proportion as a man thinks, acts, and labours for his fellow creatures, will he secure that indestructible enjoyment and imperishable delight which are the secure possession and the appropriate reward of the truly benevolent. Nor does this, by any means, imply or necessitate the neglect of those efforts which are conducive to the well-being of his family and himself. This were to inculcate a wholly erroneous system of ethics. It is one of the conditions of humanity—its curse, according to Theologians, its blessing, according to ourselves—that a man should labour with his hands or with his head, for his own subsistence, and for that of those who are dependent upon him. But each of us can, and does, produce more than is necessary for this purpose, and it is this very overplus that should be devoted to the support of the incapable, and the relief of the afflicted. And, instead of hoarding up wealth with a view to exempt our children from the wholesome obligation and admirable discipline of labour, it would be far better for them, and far better for ourselves, if we were to dedicate these savings to ameliorate and equalize the lot of those around us. By doing so, we should very soon discover that instead of competitors and rivals, we should be surrounded with coadjutors and helpers—with eager assistants and spontaneous friends.
Instead of the spectacle which society presents at this moment—that of a herd of ravenous beasts, each striving to monopolise as largo a portion as possible of the common pasturage, each ready to fly at the other's throat the moment that pasturage is encroached upon, and each rejoicing when the weaker combatants are worsted in the conflict, and are compelled to slink away, wounded and disabled, into the jungle of wretchedness and misery—we should witness a spirit of genuine brotherhood arise. Men would be mutually helpful, mutually eager to help, mutually rejoicing in each other's welfare, and mutually participating in the prosperity of all Egotism would be merged in a far nobler sentiment, and the State, instead of being the personification of that odious principle, would become what it ought to become—a Commonwealth, towards which form of government and constitution of society so many vague aspira- page 15 tions are now tending, and so many thoughtful men are anxiously directing the noble enthusiasm of their minds, and the most generous impulses of their hearts.
I think it must be sorrowfully admitted that the neighbourhood of man to man implies a re-lationship which is almost lost of sight in modern society, owing to the isolation in which each of us lives, and the strange seclusion in which we—the most gregarious of animals—voluntarily immure ourselves, each like a wild boast in his lair. In fact, the very precautions we take to secure that segregation, and to confirm what we believe to be our safety, are—when regarded from a philosophical point of view—ridiculous in the extreme. Look at our iron railings, our high walls, our doors and shutters, our safety locks, our bolts and bars, and all the ingenious arrangements by which we either sequester ourselves from, or guard ourselves against, the incursions of our fellow men. Do you find any-thing like it in nature except among the weakest and most defenceless of insects—as, for example, the trap-door spiders of South Australia? What a satire is it upon man—the lord of the creation—man gifted with mental power so much in excess of that of the lower animals—man capable of framing and obeying laws for his self-government in society, that he should be driven to have recourse to these devices in order that he may the more effectually sever himself from his fellow creatures, and protect from depredation the fruits of his industry, or—as not unfrequently happens—the proceeds of his wrong-doing! Is this the outcome of so many centuries of civilisation? Is this the proud achievement of humanity after occupying the earth for ages upon ages? Have we not yet reached such a social condition as that we can afford to dispense with precautions which are manifestly cased upon the assumption that every other man is an intruder or a marauder? Don't you think that barbarism—as we contemptuously term it—has the advantage of us in this respect? Must there not be something terribly unnatural and even rotten, in our so-called civilization, when so much of the structure of our daily life is based upon the supposition that the human family—or our own branch of it—is not a brotherhood, but an aggregation of thieves and suspicious persons; and that the secure enjoyment of life demands individual isolation, and compels a mutual denial of the principle that God made all mankind of one flesh? Custom, however, has so brazed our minds, and clouded our faculties that we fail to discern the shocking inconsistencies which present themselves between our principles and our practice. And yet there must be moments in the life of each of us, when the still small voice within admonishes us of the irrationality and of the un-naturalness of our social life; and when we feel perforce that if the question were addressed to us—"Who is thy neighbour?" we should be dumbfoundered by the startling interrogation, and humiliated by our inability to reply to it with satisfaction to our own consciences.
As God has loved us—we are told—so should we love one another. This is, of course, but a figurative expression; for His love to us is infinite and inexhaustible, whereas ours towards our fellow men is, of necessity, finite and limited. But the very knowledge of the immensity of the Divine Love to man—whereof the proofs lie all around us, in the whole scheme of creation and progression—ought to inspire us with the deepest and truest affection for our fellow creatures, made like ourselves in His spiritual image, destined to immortality, and capable of being advanced in their upward path, by the manifestation towards them of the love of their neighbours. For, in this principle of love lies the true germ of progress. Quicken it in the minds of those in whom it is dormant, and you become their benefactor. They instinctively turn towards the Father of Love, as the plant turns towards the light—as the infant bends its eyes in trust and tenderness upon its mother's face. From the love of God, once established as a vital and growing principle within us, springs the desire to know Him as reflected and revealed in His works objectively, and in ourselves subjectively. And the more intimately we become acquainted with both, the more patiently and profoundly we study the Almighty Mind in the infinitely great and in the infinitely little—in the life which swarms in a drop of water, and in the myriads of solar systems which are distributed through space—the nearer shall we be drawn towards Him, the more fervid will become our adoration, and the more immutable our faith in His supreme power, and in His unspeakable love. For, as I took occasion to remark previously, knowledge brings faith. To love God is to know Him, and to know Him is to repose unshaken and immovable trust in His benignant Providence, His unceasing care, His immeasurable kindness, His unbounded affection.
Knowing, therefore, what is His love to us—can we impose any limits upon our love to our fellow men? If we would endeavour to repay—for the endeavour is all that is possible to us—His love to man, in what way can we do so more effectually than by loving our neighbour even as He has loved us?
Reflect for a moment what a "Paradise Regained" this earth would become if we could eradicate from our nature the principle of selfishness which now reigns so universally. All injustice would cease as a matter of necessity. No man would inflict upon another the wrong which he would be unwilling that another should inflict upon himself. No man would be intemperate, violent, or slothful, because he would feel that the consequences of his misconduct would be partially visited upon others. No man gifted with a superabundance of mental power, or of material wealth, would withhold any portion of it from those who are "in need, sickness, or any other adversity;" and the number of the latter would be materially diminished, because each person would feel that the fulfilment of his duty to his neighbour involved the exercise of diligence and forethought, temperance and prudence, on his part: so that, while the principle of benevolence would sustain an immense expansion on the one hand, there would be a commensurate contraction of the sphere of its efforts on the other.
And are we to be told that such a state of society as is herein shadowed is visionary and Utopian? The men who reason thus virtually deny the divine element in the ethical teachings page 16 of the New Testament. They declare, in effect, that the highest teachings of inspired men in all ages have no validity or value—are illusory and deceptive. God forbid that such a conclusion should ever be entertained by the family of man; for it would strike at the root of all progress, and would be in direct contradiction to the voice which speaks within us—to the intellectual instincts which assures us that, even upon the earth, man is capable of drawing nearer the angels in sentiment and action; and that the day will come when the animal within us will be subjugated and destroyed, and when we shall stand nearer to our Almighty Father in virtue of our closer approach to the angelic nature above and around us.
All the day-dreams of the past—all the visions of man's perfectibility—dim suggestions as these were of higher possibilities within him—will be realised and fulfilled when the true principles of human brotherhood begin to be recognised and acted upon. Instead of being, as it is, a menagerie of wild beasts, in which we see the worst passions of our animal nature displaying themselves in greed, cunning, and ferocity, we shall witness a genuine sentiment of benevolence and philanthropy, taking possession of men's minds. It will spread outwards from those of a few to those of the multitude. For among the most ignorant and the most unimpressionable there is to be found a latent sense of goodness and justice, and a capacity for appreciating nobility and unselfishness of conduct. Show a disinterested action to the most selfish man, and convince him that it is without base alloy, and he will admire it in spite of himself. Multiply disinterestedness upon the earth, exhibit the spectacle of only a hundred men living disinterested lives and labouring for others, and, believe me, you will find thousands following their example. For there is this paradoxical characteristic about un-selfishness that it is the most selfish proceeding of which a man is capable. To put the paradox in other words, the greater the amount of happiness a man diffuses around him, the greater the store of happiness he garners up for himself both here and hereafter. And happiness is, avowedly, our "being's end and aim. We are always striving after and struggling towards it. The avaricious man, the sensualist, the student, the statesman, the merchant, the speculator, and the explorer—each is labouring for the acquisition of certain means, or of a certain position or reputation which he regards as indispensable to the attainment of a given end—that end being happiness. Let me ask you how many of these are successful in the achievement? They acquire, perhaps, what they have been accustomed to consider as the means, but the end is as just as far from them at the close of their career as at its commencement.
"Ah!" said a poor friend of the late Baron Rothschild, as he entered his office in Paris, and found him surrounded by the documentary symbols of wealth, "What a happy man you must be!" "Call me not happy," said the cynical Croesus, "until you see me throw all these bonds, debentures, scrip, and drafts into the river Seine."
"How I envy you!" said an American one day to the wealthiest man in New York. "Do you?" was the grim reply. "Would you undertake the management of my enormous and complicated business for no other remuneration than your food, clothing, lodging, and pocket-money?" "No." "That's all I derive from it," was the almost pathetic rejoinder of the opulent merchant.
All! But who can estimate what the losses—the mental and spirital losses—of such men as Rothschild have been? And then imagine the eagerness and rapidity with which their heirs may have watched their failing health and calculated upon their approaching death. Do you suppose that the last hours of a man's life are likely to be soothed and consoled by the knowledge that the very people who are gathered round his bed—with white handkerchiefs in their hands and a decent show of grief upon their hypocritical countenances—are mentally speculating upon the probable distribution of the dying man's wealth? Do you imagine that he himself, with every sordid instinct of his nature sharpened by incessant exercise through life, and with that clearness and penetration of vision which people acquire just before physical dissolution, does not clearly discern the wolfish craving of their selfish natures glaring through their ravenous eyes. What a valediction to earth! What a foretaste of the remorse and anguish of mind which msut precede the commencement of regeneration elsewhere—that is, supposing the immortal principle is not sent back to earth again to recommence another pilgrimage upon the globe!
Contrast the life and death of men who have lived for themselves with those of men who, feeling the brotherhood of humanity, and loving their fellow creatures because God first loved us, have devoted themselves to ameliorating the physical condition and elevating the mental character of their race. They may be poor, obscure, and insignificant. Their names may not be written on the scroll of secular fame. They may have been decried as fanatics or commiserated as madmen. They may have been familiar with sorrows like Christ, accustomed to hardships like Spinoza, and acquainted with persecution like Galileo; but we may be absolutely certain that, in life, they were accompanied by troops of angels; that they experienced the peace which passeth all understanding; and that when the change which we call death occurred, it was but an awakening into a state of existence such as human eyes have not seen, nor human ears heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the glory, the wonder, the rapture, and the unending and infinite progression thereof.