But we need no longer show in this narrow way the drawback of this life, as if the number of its ills was limited to adulteries, dissensions, and plots. I think we should take the higher and truer view, and say at once that none of that evil in life, which is visible in all its business and in all its pursuits, can have any hold over a man, if he will not put himself in the fetters of this course. The truth of what we say will be clear thus. A man who, seeing through the illusion with the eye of his spirit purged, lifts himself above the struggling world, and, to use the words of the Apostle, slights it all as but dung, in a way exiling himself altogether from human life by his abstinence from marriage,—that man has no fellowship whatever with the sins of mankind, such as avarice, envy, anger, hatred, and everything of the kind. He has an exemption from all this, and is in every way free and at peace; there is nothing in him to provoke his neighbours envy, because he clutches none of those objects round which envy in this life gathers. He has raised his own life above the world, and prizing virtue as his only precious possession he will pass his days in painless peace and quiet. For virtue is a possession which, though all according to their capacity should share it, yet will be always in abundance for those who thirst after it; unlike the occupation of the lands on this earth, which men divide into sections, and the more they add to the one the more they take from the other, so that the one persons gain is his fellows loss; whence arise the fights for the lions share, from mens hatred of being cheated. But the larger owner of this possession is never envied; he who snatches the lions share does no damage to him who claims equal participation; as each is capable each has this noble longing satisfied, while the wealth of virtues in those who are already occupiers 1360 is not exhausted. The man, then, who, with his eyes only on such a life, makes virtue, which has no limit that man can devise, his only treasure, will surely never brook to bend his soul to any of those low courses which multitudes tread. He will not admire earthly riches, or human power, or any of those things which folly seeks. If, indeed, his mind is still pitched so low, he is outside our band of novices, and our words p. 349 do not apply to him. But if his thoughts are above, walking as it were with God, he will be lifted out of the maze of all these errors; for the predisposing cause of them all, marriage, has not touched him. Now the wish to be before others is the deadly sin of pride, and one would not be far wrong in saying that this is the seed-root of all the thorns of sin; but it is from reasons connected with marriage that this pride mostly begins. To show what I mean, we generally find the grasping man throwing the blame on his nearest kin; the man mad after notoriety and ambition generally makes his family responsible for this sin: “he must not be thought inferior to his forefathers; he must be deemed a great man by the generation to come by leaving his children historic records of himself”: so also the other maladies of the soul, envy, spite, hatred and such-like, are connected with this cause; they are to be found amongst those who are eager about the things of this life. He who has fled from it gazes as from some high watch-tower on the prospect of humanity, and pities these slaves of vanity for their blindness in setting such a value on bodily well-being. He sees some distinguished person giving himself airs because of his public honours, and wealth, and power, and only laughs at the folly of being so puffed up. He gives to the years of human life the longest number, according to the Psalmists computation, and then compares this atom-interval with the endless ages, and pities the vain glory of those who excite themselves for such low and petty and perishable things. What, indeed, amongst the things here is there enviable in that which so many strive for,—honour? What is gained by those who win it? The mortal remains mortal whether he is honoured or not. What good does the possessor of many acres gain in the end? Except that the foolish man thinks his own that which never belongs to him, ignorant seemingly in his greed that “the earth is the Lords, and the fulness thereof 1361 ,” for “God is king of all the earth 1362 .” It is the passion of having which gives men a false title of lordship over that which can never belong to them. “The earth,” says the wise Preacher, “abideth for ever 1363 ,” ministering to every generation, first one, then another, that is born upon it; but men, though they are so little even their own masters, that they are brought into life without knowing it by their Makers will, and before they wish are withdrawn from it, nevertheless in their excessive vanity think that they are her lords; that they, now born, now dying, rule that which remains continually. One who reflecting on this holds cheaply all that mankind prizes, whose only love is the divine life, because “all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass 1364 ,” can never care for this grass which “to-day is and to-morrow is not”; studying the divine ways, he knows not only that human life has no fixity, but that the entire universe will not keep on its quiet course for ever; he neglects his existence here as an alien and a passing thing; for the Saviour said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away 1365 ,” the whole of necessity awaits its refashioning. As long as he is “in this tabernacle 1366 ,” exhibiting mortality, weighed down with this existence, he laments the lengthening of his sojourn in it; as the Psalmist-poet says in his heavenly songs. Truly, they live in darkness who sojourn in these living tabernacles; wherefore that preacher, groaning at the continuance of this sojourn, says, “Woe is me that my sojourn is prolonged 1367 ,” and he attributes the cause of his dejection to “darkness”; for we know that darkness is called in the Hebrew language “kedar.” It is indeed a darkness as of the night which envelops mankind, and prevents them seeing this deceit and knowing that all which is most prized by the living, and moreover all which is the reverse, exists only in the conception of the unreflecting, and is in itself nothing; there is no such reality anywhere as obscurity of birth, or illustrious birth, or glory, or splendour, or ancient renown, or present elevation, or power over others, or subjection. Wealth and comfort, poverty and distress, and all the other inequalities of life, seem to the ignorant, applying the test of pleasure, vastly different from each other. But to the higher understanding they are all alike; one is not of greater value than the other; because life runs on to the finish with the same speed through all these opposites, and in the lots of either class there remains the same power of choice to live well or ill, “through armour on the right hand and on the left, through evil report and good report 1368 .” Therefore the clearseeing mind which measures reality will journey on its path without turning, accomplishing its appointed time from its birth to its exit; it is neither softened by the pleasures nor beaten down by the hardships; but, as is the way with travellers, it keeps advancing always, and takes but little notice of the views presented. It is the travellers way to press on to their journeys end, no matter whether they are passing through meadows and cultivated farms, or through wilder and more rugged spots; a smiling landscape does not detain them; nor a gloomy one check their speed. So, too, that lofty mind will press straight on to its self-imposed end, p. 350 not turning aside to see anything on the way. It passes through life, but its gaze is fixed on heaven; it is the good steersman directing the bark to some landmark there. But the grosser mind looks down; it bends its energies to bodily pleasures as surely as the sheep stoop to their pasture; it lives for gorging and still lower pleasures 1369 ; it is alienated from the life of God 1370 , and a stranger to the promise of the Covenants; it recognizes no good but the gratification of the body. It is a mind such as this that “walks in darkness 1371 ,” and invents all the evil in this life of ours; avarice, passions unchecked, unbounded luxury, lust of power, vain-glory, the whole mob of moral diseases that invade mens homes. In these vices, one somehow holds closely to another; where one has entered all the rest seem to follow, dragging each other in a natural order, just as in a chain, when you have jerked the first link, the others cannot rest, and even the link at the other end feels the motion of the first, which passes thence by virtue of their contiguity through the intervening links; so firmly are mens vices linked together by their very nature; when one of them has gained the mastery of a soul, the rest of the train follow. If you want a graphic picture of this accursed chain, suppose a man who because of some special pleasure it gives him is a victim to his thirst for fame; then a desire to increase his fortune follows close upon this thirst for fame; he becomes grasping; but only because the first vice leads him on to this. Then this grasping after money and superiority engenders either anger with his kith and kin, or pride towards his inferiors, or envy of those above him; then hypocrisy comes in after this envy; a soured temper after that; a misanthropical spirit after that; and behind them all a state of condemnation which ends in the dark fires of hell. You see the chain; how all follows from one cherished passion. Seeing, then, that this inseparable train of moral diseases has entered once for all into the world, one single way of escape is pointed out to us in the exhortations of the inspired writings; and that is to separate ourselves from the life which involves this sequence of sufferings. If we haunt Sodom, we cannot escape the rain of fire; nor if one who has fled out of her looks back upon her desolation, can he fail to become a pillar of salt rooted to the spot. We cannot be rid of the Egyptian bondage, unless we leave Egypt, that is, this life that lies under water 1372 , and pass, not that Red Sea, but this black and gloomy Sea of life. But suppose we remain in this evil bondage, and, to use the Masters words, “the truth shall not have made us free,” how can one who seeks a lie and wanders in the maze of this world ever come to the truth? How can one who has surrendered his existence to be chained by nature run away from this captivity? An illustration will make our meaning clearer. A winter torrent 1373 , which, impetuous in itself, becomes swollen and carries down beneath its stream trees and boulders and anything that comes in its way, is death and danger to those alone who live along its course; for those who have got well out of its way it rages in vain. Just so, only the man who lives in the turmoil of life has to feel its force; only he has to receive those sufferings which natures stream, descending in a flood of troubles, must, to be true to its kind, bring to those who journey on its banks. But if a man leaves this torrent, and these “proud waters 1374 ,” he will escape from being “a prey to the teeth” of this life, as the Psalm goes on to say, and, as “a bird from the snare,” on virtues wings. This simile, then, of the torrent holds; human life is a tossing and tumultuous stream sweeping down to find its natural level; none of the objects sought for in it last till the seekers are satisfied; all that is carried to them by this stream comes near, just touches them, and passes on; so that the present moment in this impetuous flow eludes enjoyment, for the after-current snatches it from their view. It would be our interest therefore to keep far away from such a stream, lest, engaged on temporal things, we should neglect eternity. How can a man keep for ever anything here, be his love for it never so passionate? Which of lifes most cherished objects endures always? What flower of prime? What gift of strength and beauty? What wealth, or fame, or power? They all have their transient bloom, and then melt away into their opposites. Who can continue in lifes prime? Whose strength lasts for ever? Has not Nature made the bloom of beauty even more short-lived than the shows of spring? For they blossom in their season, and after withering for a while again revive; after another shedding they are again in leaf, and retain their beauty of to-day to a late prime. But Nature exhibits the human bloom only in the spring of early life; then she kills it; it is vanished in the frosts of age. All other delights also deceive the bodily eye for a time, and then pass behind the veil of oblivion. Natures inevitable changes are many; they agonize him whose love is passionate. One way of escape is open: it is, to be attached to none of these things, and to get as far away as p. 351 possible from the society of this emotional and sensual world; or rather, for a man to go outside the feelings which his own body gives rise to. Then, as he does not live for the flesh, he will not be subject to the troubles of the flesh. But this amounts to living for the spirit only, and imitating all we can the employment of the world of spirits. There they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. Their work and their excellence is to contemplate the Father of all purity, and to beautify the lines of their own character from the Source of all beauty, so far as imitation of It is possible.
Ps. xxiv. 1; xlvii. 7.349:1362
Ps. xxiv. 1; xlvii. 7.349:1363 349:1364 349:1365
S. Matt. xxiv. 35.349:1366 349:1367 349:1368 350:1369 350:1370
Eph. ii. 12; iv. 18.350:1371
S. John xii. 35350:1372 350:1373 350:1374
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