The Religion of It
THE religion of it is the whole of it. “All religion has relation to life and the life of religion is to do good.” If religion does not teach us to do good in the very best way, in the way that is most truly useful to ourselves and to other people, religion is absolutely useless and had better be ignored altogether. We must beware, however, of identifying the idea of religion with the men and the women who pervert it. If an electrician came to us to light our house, and the lights would not burn, we would not immediately condemn all electric lighting as bosh and nonsense, or as sentimental theory; we should know, of course, that this especial electrician did not understand his business, and would at once look about to find a man who did, and get him to put our lights in order. If no electrician really seemed to know his business, and we wanted our lights very much, the next thing to do would be to look into the, laws of electricity ourselves, and find out exactly where the trouble was, and so keep at work until we had made our own lights burn, and always felt able, if at any time they failed to burn, to discover and remedy the difficulty ourselves. There is not a man or woman who does not feel, at some time, the need of an inner light to make the path clear in the circumstances of life, and especially in dealing with others. Many men and women feel that need all the time, and happy are those who are not satisfied until the need is supplied and they are working steadily in daily practical life, guided by a light that they know is higher than theory. When the light is once found, and we know the direction in which we wish to travel, the path is not by any means always clear and smooth, it is often, full of hard, rough Places, and there are sometimes miles to go over where our light seems dim; but if we have proved our direction to be right, and keep steadily and strongly moving forward , we are always sure to come into open resting places where we can be quiet, gather strength, and see the light more clearly for the next stage of the journey.
“It is wonderful,” some one remarked, “how this theory of non-resistance has helped me; life is quite another thing since I have practised it steadily.” The reply was “it is not wonderful when we realize that the Lord meant what He said when He told us not to resist evil.” At this suggestion the speaker looked up with surprise and said: “Why, is that in the New Testament? Where, in what part of it She never had thought of the sermon on the Mount as a working plan, or, indeed, of the New Testament as a handbook of life, — practical and powerful in every detail. If we once begin to use it daily and hourly as a working plan of life, it is marvellous how the power and the efficiency of it will grow on us, and we shall no more be able to get along without it than an electrician can get along without a knowledge of the laws of electricity.
Some people have taken the New Testament so literally that they have befogged themselves entirely with regard to its real meaning, and have put it aside as impracticable; others have surrounded it with an emotional idea, as something to theorize and rhapsodize about, and have befogged themselves in that way with regard to its. real power. Most people are not clear about it because of the tradition that has come to us through generations who have read it and heard it read in church, and never have thought of living it outside. We can have a great deal of church without any religion, but we cannot have religion without true worship, whether the worship is only in our individual souls, or whether it is also the function of a church to which we belong, with a building dedicated to the worship of the Lord to which we go for prayer and for instruction. If we could clear ourselves from the deadening effects of tradition, from sentimentality, from nice theory, and from every touch of emotional and spurious peace, and take up the New Testament as if we were reading it for the first time, and then if we could use it faithfully as a working plan for a time, simply as an experiment, — it would soon cease to be an experiment, and we should not need to be told by any one that it is a divine revelation; we would be confident of that in our own souls. Indeed that is the only way any one can ever be sure of revelation; it must come to each of us alone, as if it had never come to any one before; and yet the beauty and power of it is such that it has come to myriads before us and will come to myriads after us in just the same way.
But there is no real revelation for any one until he has lived what he sees to be true. I may talk like an angel and assert with a shining face my confident faith in God and in all His laws, but my words will mean nothing whatever, unless I have so lived my faith that it has been absorbed, into my character and so that the truths of my working plan have become my second nature.
Many people have discovered that the Lord meant what He said when He said: “Resist not evil,” and have proved how truly practical is the command, in their efforts to be willing to be ill, to be willing that circumstances should seem to go against them, to be willing that other people should be unjust, angry, or disagreeable. They have seen that in yielding to circumstances or people entirely, — that is, in dropping their own resistances, — they have gained clear, quiet minds, which enables them to see, to understand, and to practise a higher common sense in the affairs of their lives, which leads to their ultimate happiness and freedom. It is now clear to many people that much of the nervous illness of to-day is caused by a prolonged state of resistance to circumstances or to people which has kept the brain in a strained and irritated state so that it can no longer do its work; and that the patient has to lay by for a longer or a shorter period, according to his ability to drop the resistances, and so allay the irritation and let his brain and nervous system rest and heal.
Then with regard to dealing with others, some of us have found out the practical common sense of taking even injustice quietly and without resistance, of looking to our own faults first, and getting quite free from all resentment and resistance to the behavior of others, before we can expect to understand their point of view, or to help them to more reasonable, kindly action if they are in error. Very few of us have recognized and acknowledged that that was what the Lord meant when He said: “Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
It comes with a flash of recognition that is refreshingly helpful when we think we have discovered a practical truth that works, and then see that it is only another way of putting what has been taught for the last two thousand years.
Many of us understand and appreciate the truth that a man’s true character depends upon his real, interior motives. He is only what his motives are, and not, necessarily, what his motives appear to be. We know that, if a man only controls the appearance of anger and hatred, he has no real self-control whatever. He must get free from the anger itself to be free in reality, and to be his own master. We must stop and think, however, to understand that this is just what the Lord meant when He told us to clean the inside of the cup and the platter, and we need to think more to realize the strength of the warning, that we should not be “whitened sepulchres.”
We know that we are really related to those who can and do help us to be more useful men and women, and to those whom we can serve in the most genuine way; we know that we are wholesomely dependent upon all from whom we can learn, and we should be glad to have those freely dependent upon us whom we can truly serve. It is most strengthening when we realize that this is the true meaning of the Lord’s saying, “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”
That the Lord Himself, with all His strength, was willing to be dependent, is shown by the fact that, from the cross, He said to those who had crucified Him, “I thirst.” They had condemned Him, and crucified Him, and yet He was willing to ask them for drink, to show His willingness to be served by them, even though He knew they would respond only with a sponge filled with vinegar.
We know that when we are in a hard place, if we do the duty that is before us, and keep steadily at work as well as we can, that the hard problem will get worked through in some way. We know that this is true, for we have proved it over and over; but how many people realize that it is because the Lord meant what He said when He told us: to “take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow will take thought for the things of itself.”
I am reasoning from the proof of the law to the law itself.
There is no end to the illustrations that we might find proving the spiritual common sense of the New Testament and, if by working first in that way, we can get through this fog of tradition, of sentimentality, and of religious emotion, and find the living power of the book itself, then we can get a more and more clear comprehension of the laws it teaches, and will, every day, be proving their practical power in all our dealings with life and with people. Whether we are wrestling with nature in scientific work, whether we are working in the fine arts, in the commercial world, in the professional world, or are dealing with nations, it is always the same, — we find our freedom to work fully realized only when we are obedient to law, and it is a wonderful day for any human being when he intelligently recognizes and finds himself getting into the current of the law of the New Testament. The action of that law he sees is real, and everything outside he recognizes as unreal. In the light of the new truth, we see that many things which we have hitherto regarded as essential, are of minor importance in their relation to life itself.
The old lady who said to her friend, “My dear, it is impossible to exaggerate the unimportance of things,” had learned what it meant to drop everything that interferes, and must have been truly on her way to the concentration which should be the very central power of all life, — obedience to the two great commandments.
Concentration does not mean straining every nerve and muscle toward obedience, it means dropping every thing that interferes. If we drop everything that interferes with our obedience to the two great commandments, and the other laws which are given us all through the New Testament to help us obey, we are steadily dropping all selfish resistance, and all tendency to selfish responsibility; and in that steady effort, we are on the only path which can by any possibility lead us directly to freedom.