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Contrasted Views of the Selfish and Essential Life.

The world is man, or rather is humanity. And man is not a man except in virtue of possessing in himself what may be called a motive power. Such a power,—such an innate motivity,—is a necessity, (that is to say, a necessary or indispensable condition) of the existence of all intelligent and active beings. This is undoubtedly one of the affirmations of man’s intuitive intellect,—of the mind in its suggestive or spontaneous action; an affirmation which utters itself in all men’s hearts, and which therefore carries with it an universal consent. And so far philosophy harmonizes with religion. Man lives because he has power to live; and the nature of his life will be according to the nature of that power.

If we look at man’s history from this point of view, we shall get a glimpse of the outlines of successive dispensations. In what is often called his natural state, man finds that internal and impulsive energy which constitutes the soul’s life, or at least this is generally and almost universally the case,—in the attractions of sensual pleasure, in the obstinacies of pride, in the aspirations of ambition, in the hostilities of revenge, and in the ever-grasping desire of possession and accumulation. He is born into the finite;—and his first idea is, (and it could not well be otherwise,) to live in the finite;—that is to say, to live for himself. He is his own world. In that world he lives; and from it he lives; and his object is not to diminish it by imparting to others, but on the contrary, though at the expense of jealousy and strife, to increase and strengthen it by adding whatever he can. And as society cannot be separated from the units which compose it, therefore the man individual is the precise representative, the type or form, of the man social. And therefore the leading characteristic of the first dispensation is SELFISM. And
selfism is necessarily antagonism. He who lives to himself, does not live to others; and not living to others as he lives to himself, and for himself, he is necessarily separated from them in a greater or less degree, and becomes antagonistical. Everywhere there is distrust, jealousy, pride, anger, lust, revenge, cruelty, and every evil thing which imagination can conceive. This is man’s first development, the first historical fact which the early records of every nation and people distinctly declare. This is what is read in the histories of the savage tribes of North America. [Numberless volumes might be referred to. Perhaps there is none more terribly instructive than the recently published Life of Beckwith.]

This is what is read, if we look deeply into the motives of the actors, in the Homeric poems, and in the historical fragments and the traditions, as we find them in Niebuhr, which give us a view of the early states of Italy. This is the sad and humiliating story, which I have myself seen and read, as it has stood through long generations, sculptured in the walls of the enduring temples of Thebes. Such is the historical truth that has been dug up also from the buried cities of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The nations which existed antecedent to the time of Moses, and in the regions through which he led the Hebrews, are illustrations of this statement;—the Amalekites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and also the cities, tribes, and states which inhabited Palestine, and the Philistine country, and the ancient Phoenicia.

This first dispensation, which we will here call the dispensation of selfism, was modified, in the course of time and in some respects elevated, by a high civilization. It was the result of selfishness, directing its agriculture and its commerce to the one great object of accumulation, that it should acquire wealth. And wealth in its turn brought leisure, luxury, a false refinement, and the polite arts. But nothing was altered in its essential nature. Selfishness was at the root. Selfishness was at the heart. Selfishness was everywhere. Refinement and art threw around it some semblance of beauty but it was only the beauty of the sculptured monument, which conceals the death and corruption beneath it. Thus Tyre and Sidon, and Nineveh and Babylon, and Memphis and Thebes, and Athens and Rome, with all their wealth and arts, were essentially under the same condemnation with the corrupt and degraded cities and nations which had perished before them.

There are and can be only two essential or real dispensations, having a definite and fixed character;—that which has its centre and its power of life in the individual or the limited, and that which has its centre in God or the universal. The dispensation of external law, which is incidental to the first, is not an essential, but an accessory dispensation;—which, however, has its place, its history, and its value. Although in the progressive development of existences, it was necessary that the attribute of freedom should be given to man,—a real and not merely an apparent freedom,—yet the Divine Goodness could not allow, and the rights of freedom could not justly claim, that it should be permitted to men to do injury to others. In other words, although their freedom involved the fact or rather the possibility of their doing injustice, yet it would be right in God, and would be incumbent upon Him, to restrict all such unjust tendencies by a dispensation of law and of the penalties of law. Now the freedom of selfishness is the freedom of destruction.

And the world, with freedom for its opportunity and selfishness for its motive power, became a great slaughter-house,—an Aceldama,—so much so that a dispensation of external law, marking in many cases the precise boundaries between right and wrong, became a great necessity. The same love which granted freedom, imposed law; in order that freedom might not degenerate into license and ruin. And hence came that marked fact in the world’s history,—the legal or Sinai dispensation;—a dispensation which is not antagonistical to freedom, but only to freedom degenerating into license. The central expression of law, in its restriction of man’s destructive selfishness, was at Mount Sinai. External law is always terrible, because it is always antagonistical. It stands with a drawn sword;—it holds in its hand a flame of fire. And therefore the place and the circumstances of its announcement were well adapted to what was announced;—to a people who were prepared for it by experience and instruction, and who were selected as the medium through which it was to be communicated to others;—in a “waste howling wilderness,” their tents spread upon the sand, with rocks and mountains rising all around them; amid blackness, and storms, and thunder. Simultaneously and sympathetically, throughout the world, as we may well suppose, (for God’s heart is one heart, and God’s people are one people, and what he does for one he does for all,) the law engraven distinctly on the Sinai tables, was engraven also, (with various degrees perhaps of distinctness, corresponding to their privileges and lights) upon the tables of the human soul. The universe is a whole—the head inseparable from the foot,—and nothing which is great and essential can take place in one heart, without reaching and affecting sympathetically all the others. The thunder of Sinai echoed through the world; because it was the voice of that God who is the life of humanity. Everywhere by means of an increased light opened in the conscience, and by means of moral teachers raised up in different lands, were the sentiments of justice developed in opposition to selfishness; and the prevalence of violence and cruelty was in a degree checked. And hence it is said by the apostle Paul, that the heathen to whom the Sinai law was not in the first instance expressly communicated, but who nevertheless received something of its substance, by means of those interior and magnetic currents which everywhere connect man with humanity, were “a law to themselves, which show the work (or working) of the law written upon their hearts.”

But the same Apostle, — a man who had both great natural and great inspired light, says in another place, that the law “makes nothing perfect.” And the reason is, because the law is not a life but a restriction; not a power but a chain. It makes nothing perfect, though it may be true that it shuts up and limits the downward progress of imperfection. The law, however, may be of great value, because if it does not give life, it may yet prevent ruin. And if the legal dispensation is incidental to the first or selfish dispensation, it is also transitional to the last dispensation or the dispensation of universal love. And hence, it is that the same Apostle says, that the law, which is the same as the legal dispensation, is the schoolmaster, which brings us to Christ. And there is great truth in this, even when examined by the light of mere human reason. The pervertedly natural or selfish man sees things from the light of his own selfish centre. His desire to include everything in himself is so strong, that it seems to him to be right. He is, as the Scriptures represent him,
blind. And God in his goodness has placed him under law, that he might not destroy himself, and that he might not destroy others. But this is not all. The same law which preserves him in his blindness from these injurious results, is also a teacher. It puts him in a new and effective school. It opens the eyes of his understanding. It is by means of the external law, operating through the inward law of the conscience, that he sees where he is, and what he has done, and where he is going. Under the law he is still a selfish man; but he is a restrained or regulated selfish man. The legal dispensation is transitional, it gives light; it is mixed in its results; it is a necessity; but still it is true, as the Apostle says, that it completes nothing; it “makes nothing perfect.” The light or knowledge which it gives is the revelation of the utter deformity and insufficiency of the first or selfish dispensation. It also gives light in the other direction, by indicating though imperfectly, the character of that other dispensation which is to take its place.

Let us look again at the expression of Paul, that the law or legal dispensation is a schoolmaster or teacher, which is to bring us to Christ. And here the first question is, who is Christ, or what is Christ? To the ancient patriarchs and prophets Christ was the man who was to come. To the disciples and apostles at a later period, Christ was the man who did come. To those who close their eye to the form in order to be more receptive of the substance, Christ is not alone the Christ-man but the Christ-spirit. And the Christ-spirit embodied in one word is love. It seeks not the good of one merely, but of all.

To seek the outward Christ is well, but to stop there is not well. The kingdom of God is within you. I speak from my own experience. I wanted Christ in the form. I wished to take him by the hand, and like the unbelieving Thomas of earlier days, to see the prints of the nails and to thrust my hand into his side. But he would not thus be seen by me. But I hear a voice, and it says, “here I am;” and it says again, “I am He.” It is thine inward eye that shall see me; thine inward ear that shall hear me.

And I said, Lord, how can this be. And he answered it was thus I told my disciples, “I am with you always even to the end of the world.” No longer look for me in the outward form, and thou shalt find me in the inward spirit. The form is limited, and belongs to one. The spirit is universal, and belongs to all. I am not with one of my disciples only, but with all;—and in all places and in all time, I yet live and am still a channel of the truth to all who are ready to receive it. Ye are the recipients; I am the giver of that which ye receive. Ye are the form; I am the substance. The forms are many; but the substance is one. If I were present in a personal form, as I was once, and continued to be present in such a form, I should be limited, and should be present to one or at most to a few. In my earthly form I was intimate with my twelve disciples, and with Lazarus and with Mary and Martha, and a few women from Galilee. But now I belong to humanity. Oh my Father, all mine are thine; and thine are mine. Oh men, ye are the form; I am the substance. If ye need me and seek me in the form; then seek me and find me in yourself.

It is thus we reach the great distinction between the first or legal dispensation and the second dispensation, the incarnation of Christ, or, in other words of that love which is the fulfilling of the Law. The time is hastening, when the true Christ-spirit will become incarnated in multitudes who will walk the earth; each a John, a Mary, each bearing his own name, and filling his own place, but each a member of that holy family of which Jesus Christ the Son of Mary and the Son of God is the Elder Brother. When the impersonal Christ is born into the world in the fulness of his nature, the rights and sacredness of woman who is the virgin mother will be understood and acknowledged. The incipient sign having relation to woman’s position has already been given. Without woman, without the aid of the sympathies which are connatural to her affectionate nature, He could not and cannot be born into the world. Born of woman once he is born of woman forever. The truth of Christ dying for us without the other great truth of Christ living in us, leaves man out of the sphere of the Divine Unity, and in a state of perpetual orphanage.

In giving utterance to the truths and principles which are now inspired within us, and which indicate our present position and purposes, we lay no bonds upon the future;—we do not attempt with audacious hands to steady the divine Ark by placing chains upon the endless unfoldings of unlimited Intelligence and Love;—but on the contrary think it important to proclaim distinctly, and as a thing which involves man’s highest happiness, that we believe in light added to light, in truth added to truth, appropriate to each added moment of time, to each added variation of circumstances, and to each ascending step in the soul’s unlimited progressional being.