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Evidences of the Existence of the Essential Life.

1.— How shall it be known by others, or how shall we determine for ourselves, whether this element of a true and everlasting life is in us or not? — an inquiry so important, that it has called forth at various times such thoughtful works as that of Shepard of Cambridge on the Parable of the Virgins, Scougal’s
Life of God in the Soul of man, and President Edwards’ Treatise on the Religious Affections. The great Teacher, who had the life in Himself, and who is the source of life to others, gives the answer to the question before us, in those simple but significant words: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

2.— The mind of Christ, speaking after the manner of men, was not only constituted with a highly poetic tendency, as some modern critics have justly acknowledged, but was eminently thoughtful, and was by no means destitute of a philosophical element. And He gives one of the best evidences of this trait of character, and that he knew especially how to deal with mental questions, in generally communicating his great doctrines, not in abstract statements, but in familiar illustrations, adapted to the mental development of those around him. Acquainted as he was with the most interior relation of things, he does not say to the multitude whom he addresses, “Every effect has its cause,” or something of that kind; but says, in kindly sympathy with the feeble intellectualism of his uneducated hearers, “Men do not gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles.” A beautiful illustration, setting clearly forth the great philosophical principle, that the character of the effect, whether good or evil, is necessarily, and by a law of being, a revelation of the nature of its cause. In knowing the results, we know the causative principle; in knowing the fruits, we know the vital force from which they spring. We feel at liberty therefore to affirm, that the good man, being what he is, does not do good from self-interested calculations; but on the principle involved in Christ’s illustration of the tree and its fruits, does good because he cannot do otherwise; it being the law of a truly good and holy nature to do good. Such a man is in the true life: and may be said in a high and sacred sense to be a living man. “He that hath the Son,” says the Apostle John, “hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” The living man is like a star, which shines because it is a star; is like a fountain, which flows because it is a fountain; is like a flower, which gives out its fragrance because it is a flower; is like a tree, which bears fruit because it is a tree. In other words a living man in the higher sense of the term, is, by the necessities of his nature a man of out-goings, of activities, of fruits or works; having the practical working and manifestation of his earthly career hung round with the flowers and the fruits of beneficence.

3.— Such is the answer of Christ to the question before us; and it is an answer which will bear the most thoughtful consideration. But it will perhaps be suggested here, that the evidence which is thus furnished, it being objective or outward, is evidence to others only, and not to the man himself. But it is to be remembered that, while the fruits are outward, the causative principle is inward. And in the correlation of things, felt and accepted in the universal intuitions of men, they go together. The outward fruits, it is true, are matters of outward observation; but the outward fruits reveal the fact of the inward principle, which stands as the source or the motive of action, and then adjusting our affirmations, not to the outward results, but the inward cause, we say at once on the basis of mental knowledge, that the cause, revealed in the man’s own breast, comes within the sphere of consciousness. The man therefore who is really in the outward truth, in the matter of good fruits or good doing, will know himself also to be in the inward or essential truth, because his consciousness cannot testify to a falsehood. It is in accordance with this view, that it is said in the first Epistle of John of the believer in Christ, that he “hath the witness in himself.” And the Apostle Paul also, in the Epistle to the Romans asserts, that “the Spirit itself,” who always harmonizes with the truth, “beareth witness with our spirit;” in other words, concurrently testifies, in such ways as are known to himself, to the affirmation of our own consciousness, “that we are the children of God.”

Such is the evidence in the case. The principles involved in it are scriptural, and at the same time are in accordance with human reason. They bear at least the seal and signature of the great Master. Practical good doing, involving as it does the “inward witness,” is the true test of the life of God in the soul.

But it is proper to add at this point, that the activity, resulting in good doing or good fruits, is not always in the same method or form, but is susceptible of many diversities. It is apparently a fixed and permanent principle in the constitution of things, that every thing which exists finds somewhere its correspondent or counterpart; and accordingly that which is good, will be found to be supplemented with occasions of good; and that which is evil, finds itself surrounded with occasions of evil, so that every living principle, attracting around its own vitalizing centre the occasions and opportunities of its exercise, forms as it were a habitation for itself to dwell in. And yet it is true that the habitation, the surrounding framework and dwelling-place of occasions, is not always specifically the same; but in the multitude of its facts and incidents, notwithstanding its fixed relations to its central attracting element, is exceedingly diversified. Nor is there any rule which can definitely ascertain and specify beforehand, what the precise nature of that diversity will be; in other words, in what particular way each one will act out his inward life in its correspondent good or evil; for it is one of those things, which, in taking hold of the immeasurable infinitude of facts and relations, necessarily lies hidden in the depths of infinite wisdom.

4.— While therefore it is necessary for each one to be good in order to fulfill his highest obligations, and to secure the highest happiness, it is not possible for any one to say beforehand, precisely in what way this goodness will manifest itself. And if we cannot beforehand lay down the law for ourselves in this matter, so, also, we cannot always accept the law or rule of action from the opinion or dictates of others, who may be supposed to be equally ignorant. But having the life of goodness as something central and essential, we shall not direct its outflowing by means of arbitrary calculations and adjustments; shall not do this or that, shall not go in this or that direction in our own wills; but shall rather find ourselves the quiet and almost unconscious subjects of its divine tendency, to move, and move only in God’s time, in God’s way, and in God’s degree. And the result is, as God directs us and not man, and with all the knowledge which God alone possesses, that there are very numerous diversities; and such as could not be safely originated or directed by mere human wisdom. Hence it is that one good man will be a preacher at home; another, with the same essential life in his soul, will be a missionary to the heathen. One, taking the direction of outward activity, will cry aloud and spare not, like Luther or Whitfield; and another, by an interior leading equally divine, will worship God, after the manner of Penn or George Fox, in the temple of inward stillness. And such diversities, all springing from the same essential unity, will be all and equally pleasing to God. In all probability, there was much speculation in the earlier ages about that solitary and mysterious man, Thomas à Kempis; and many perhaps thought he was an unprofitable Christian; but God, nevertheless, had a work for him to do, and was working in him; and at last the fruitage of his solitary meditations appeared in that well known and eminently spiritual work, the Imitation of Christ, on which the hungry souls of successive generations have fed.

7.— And similar diversities of result will appear in things which are regarded as secular; but which, in a true state of society, will be brought more fully and distinctly within the sphere of religion. The mathematical sciences, and those sciences which involve more or less a mathematical calculation as their basis, are often placed in the popular estimation, outside of the religious sphere; at least in a great degree. And it is oftentimes plainly hinted, perhaps on account of their supposed closer connection with the head than the heart, that the mathematician and the philosopher in their solitary studies, might be more profitably employed in a prayer meeting. This may sometimes be the case. But it is no presumption to say, as a general principle, that the religious character of a man’s work does not so much depend upon the place where he is, as upon his inspiration; does not turn so much upon the thing which he does, as upon the question whether God calls him to do it, and whether he acts from a true inward life. We do not find it stated of Sir Isaac Newton that he appeared much in public, especially on occasions of a religious nature; and yet, remembering that God acts through a diversity of gifts and methods, we can not easily think of him in his silent and protracted inquiries, pursued for objects which he felt to be connected with the progress of the human race, without almost consciously feeling, that the Spirit of God was with him, and was the true inspiration of his profound thoughts. His reply, when asked by some one in what way he arrived at his discoveries, was, that he “kept the subject constantly before him, and waited till the first dawning opened, slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”

This is a statement of a condition of mind, attended as it was in the case of Newton with great unselfishness, simplicity, and lowliness of spirit, which is eminently favorable to the presence and operations of the Spirit of God. And so of many other cases. A great Continent, for instance, was to be discovered; lands and forests and mighty rivers, long hidden in darkness were to be brought to light; and therefore it was that God, who had inspired great thoughts and aspirations in the mind of Columbus thoughts and aspirations correspondent to the work to be done, did not send him to the convent of La Rabida to affiliate with the monks, and to become a member there, and to occupy his life in the prayers and services of a monastery; but clothed him in the garb of a sailor, and sending him with his frail vessels from the port of Palos, required the fulfillment of his mission on the stormy waves of the ocean—a mission, secular as it was in its outward aspects, which had a close connection with God’s providential plans, and with Christ’s reign upon earth.

8.— And so it is and ought to be everywhere. The diversities of practical religion are commensurate with the diversities of practical life. Everything, which is fitting to be done, is fitting to be religiously done; and furthermore, it cannot by any possibility be done fittingly, unless it is done religiously. Religion is necessary in the pulpit and the prayer-meeting; and it is equally necessary in directing the plough of the husbandman, and in working with the tool of the mechanic. The hard hand of the sailor needs it, and the head of the philosopher cannot do without it. And there is a sense also, in which the beautiful saying of Milton may be accepted as a religious truth:

They also serve, who only stand and wait.

9.—The tree is known by its fruits. And the evidence of a truly divine life, as Christ still more specifically teaches us, is found in good fruits. They may be diversified in form and flavor and other respects, but they must be good. And accordingly the question still remains to be answered: If the existence of a true inward life is known not from fruit alone, but from the additional and essential incident of their goodness, in what way or by what signs shall we ascertain the fact of such goodness? The answer to this vital inquiry is to be found, not in the doubtful or the diluted doctrines of human philosophy, but in the soul-searching precepts and principles of Christ. Who can read the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel and Epistles of John, the 13th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and other like portions of the New Testament, especially with the commentary of the acts and doings of Christ himself, without a full conviction, that the fruitage which grew in the heart and life of Christ, is destined to be born, and is required to be born, in the hearts and lives of his followers? We answer therefore in general terms, and without going fully into this particular topic at present, that a life of good fruits, ascertained and known to be such, is, and must be a true Christ life. And some of the marks or characteristics of the life of Christ in the soul, if we rightly understand the Scriptures which have been referred to, are, first, it is necessarily antagonistical to evil; second, it ultimately and always conquers in its contest with evil; third, it carries on its victorious contest not with “carnal weapons,” but on entirely new principles. It conquers jealousy, not by becoming jealous itself, but by being without jealousy. It conquers envy, not by being envious itself, but by being without envy. It conquers pride and ambition, not by seeking the high places of earthly power, but by taking a low place, and by becoming the servant of all. It conquers hatred, not by hating and smiting in return, but by pity and love. It conquers reviling and cursing, not by utterances, which are like them in bitterness, but by patience, and by kind words and blessings. It bleeds and dies upon the cross, but it bursts the bars of the tomb, and ascends to heaven. Its armory is found in the essentiality and the mighty energy of its own life of Love; and it is entitled to its place of victor, not only by the skill and power of Love as the true and mighty “sword of the Spirit,” but by the unchangeable truth and the celestial ascendancy of its position.

Standing in the pure and high places, and in the power of God himself, it looks down with calmness upon the various forms of personal hostility, to which it is oftentimes subject. It is true that under such circumstances of ingratitude, opposition, and hostility, love is very apt to take the form of pity; but love, in being pity adopts a modification of its action, without ceasing to be love.