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The Religion Of It
Source: The Freedom Of Life
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
"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.
Next: About Christmas