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that tries by the tremendous menace and promise of eternal anguish and bliss—the most powerful appeals to selfishness—to make men religious, that is unselfish, acting purely from motives of reason and right. That such a religion as this, which has been tried on human nature for ages, has failed, can be matter of surprise to no thinking man.
True, when it was really believed, its threats and bribes availed to conquer some of the ordinary outward effects of selfishness. It led monks and nuns to give up earthly for future gain. It made fanatics frown on human joys to secure celestial delights and escape future torment. For the Puritan it turned the face of nature to stone, like a Medusa, and blighted the sweetest flowers of life. Such men gave up much; but the selfish character remained nay, it was intensified. The type of character was also as self-righteous and cruel as it was joyless and narrow.
The old so-called religion having failed to produce the perfect love that casteth out fear, the man of perfect truth, whom no menace of deity or devil can turn from his rectitude,—where are we to look for the religion which can lead forth that culminating flower of nature, the perfect character? Only in the high fruition of a religion whose God is Love, to whom the highest service is love, whose law is not sacrifice, but mercifulness. It is a reasonable service, for that which falling on the heart is love, falling on the intellect is reason. It knows no hell but falsehood and wrong, it dreams of no heaven but an eternity of progressive thought and ever-growing harmony. Its power has been manifested in all time in the great lovers and saviours of men, who have consecrated their lives to truth, right and humanity, though denounced to flames on earth and flames in hell. Every rational truth, we hold, has been planted in the earth and nourished with the tears of men who gave their service in purity of love and fidelity to truth. Every divine truth that is to us as a fragrant flower, is crimsoned with the blood of a brave man's heart. They who are free from all authority but truth, are the heirs of their faith and trustees of their example ; on them mainly depends whether, in the coming time, the religion of love, reason and right shall more largely manifest its power to conquer selfishness, without terror, and stimulate to high action without any sealed contract for payment in Paradise. To be able to bear on their work, to add to it, and transmit in fuller force to the future, it is not necessary that a man or woman should be eminent, but only that what power they possess should be pure. If a man have within, firmly based, that character which is organised by truth and love, able to obey them and them only, every thought, word and deed of that man will further, though in ways he know not, all right and true things, and his feeble hand become part of the law that upholds the universe.
More than any Sufi does the believer in evolution feel himself walking through life on the perilous scimitar-edged bridge, Al-Sirat ; between vast worlds of happiness and misery. On the one side the abyss of animalism, on the other the radiant realm where every aspiring power within him finds its fruition. How often will he turn upon himself and ask, am I yet a real man? Am I acting from high or from low motives?
Am I in anything acting from motives of pride, of prejudice, or with a view to mere personal ends? If so, how can I belong to that kingdom of pure truth and perfect rectitude, which is the high and fair religion that the ages have been building ? If impelled by passion, how am I better than those lower orders whose natural life is passion ? If acting selfishly, what am I but a higher form, perhaps therefore more dangerous, of the creature prowling for its prey? Why, anybody can do that ! Any creature can be angry, and obstinate, and forget all but himself ; nature abounds in horns and stings. It hasn't required a million ages merely to evolve that type of man that can stick to his wrong and injure others. But nature might well have laboured a myriad ages to produce a man who would rather be injured than injure another, and who is great enough when he is wrong to hold his pride underfoot, and say “I have been wrong." That is greatness.
It is, indeed, a high and steep ladder, that by which a man must climb out of his lower up to his higher nature ; one slip towards the false, one backward fall, and he relapses in the scale of moral being, and adds his weight to all the baser forces of the earth. Love and truth alone can save and uplift us. Let none attempt to deny or evade the grave necessity. Moral evolution is not only true, it is a tremendous truth. He who shall realise it will in that instant fall upon his knees in the awful presence of conscience, and there make his solemn vow. To Truth he will appeal,-—"Take me, fill me with thy pure spirit! If to thee I have been at any time disloyal, if I have fostered any conscious error, or practiced any mean concealment, or acted on considerations of mere expediency,--pardon me, thou one only light of mortals, and henceforth witness that I speak and live the simple truth! And thou, spirit of Love, let me come to rest upon thy gentle breast ! If I have wandered from thee—have steeled my heart against my brother-forgotten charitythought only of myself—-forgive me, sweetest and bestpardon me, thou Love which alone can make life worth living,--and henceforth may my word and deed be not mine, but proceed from thy pure and perfect heart !”
Anew is the commandment given to us--If any will be great let him serve. Let him seek not to be min. istered unto, but to minister. Let him turn his back on self and its low successes : let him trust himself absolutely to love that must prevail, and truth that cannot fail, -and then wherever he may stand, beside him stand the law and the majesty of God.