Page images

the fractional intellect on high themes, as contrasted with the sturdy, manly, roundabout processes of the great thinkers of the ages, he is reminded of some gay and graceful squirrel starting to climb a huge Californian tree and running off on the end of a twig. Or he might think of a fly inspecting a great manufactory of Wilton carpeting. His eye is wonderfully sharp, with its four thousand facets or lesser eyes, and as he buzzes round with his lively hum he says to himself: “This polished machinery is very rough, this lubricating oil is very disagreeable, this linen back is very coarse, these five colored threads have no connection, these wires and knives are clumsy appendages. I have now looked through from basement to attic and pronounce the thing a failure." And yet "the thing ” rolls on, and rolls off its great webs of velvety surface, harmonious colors, and exquisite figures, for the admiration of man and woman alike.

The truly luminous life will rise above this style of thinking and plane of thought. It will emerge from critical bewilderment to clearness and strength, offset its questionings with good round answers, anchor to its beliefs and not to its doubts, and for “the everlasting no" substitute the everlasting yea. So in his mature age of forty-one thought the great Niebuhr, the father of historic skepticism, when he wrote concerning his infant boy: "He shall believe in the letter of the Old and New Testaments, and I shall nurture in him from his infancy a firm faith in all that I have lost or feel doubtful about." And a year later he wrote: “Oh, that men would build up!”

It is never to be forgotten that the great work of human life, in whatever sphere, is not destruction but construction; that the end and aim of human thought is not agitation and negation, but conviction, confidence, certainty. And higher than the mere cognizance of facts is the recognition of truths ; for facts make only knowledge; it takes truths to make wisdom, and wisdom has its home with God. How admirable is the life where the light that is in it is “single," making the whole man "full of light,” where the clear, candid intellect reflects the pure heart; where truth, integrity, and love beget firmness, fairness, consistency, and frankness; where simplicity of aim creates steadiness of vision; where honesty of purpose gives poise to the judgment; where earnest seeking for truth is rewarded by constant finding; where a central faith forecloses distressing doubts and brings restfulness to the heart; where the sunshine of the soul even scatters haziness of thought, clears away dimness from duty, and enlivens the darkest dealings of Providence. It is the pathway of the just.

II. But the good life has also an outer function. “It shineth.” Its rays stream outward. They bless other men.

You cannot bottle up a sunbeam. The good life becomes a lesson and an encouragement.

“ How far that little candle throws its beams!

So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

Farther yet shines the good life. How many a hard path has been made easier by the sight of another on the way, and how many a noble career has received its inspiration from those that have gone before! When Peter had entered the sepulcher, then went in that other disciple also. Paul could even write to the Phi. lippians : " Brethren, be followers together with me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” For while Christ is the only perfect model, there is a wonderful quickening, tactual power in the human example lying along beside us in the same plane of life. When the early martyrs died, others came forward to be “baptized for the dead,” and so the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. David Brainerd lived again in Henry Martyn, and they two in a multitude of consecrated men. The spotless career of an upright father has often held the son to virtue; and the saintly life of a sainted mother has not seldom been the one bond that did not break. One irreproachable Christian is a tower of strength in a church. One outand-out honest, consistent, self-poised student in a class is a nugget of pure gold, and a group of them is a “bonanza.”

Such a life is a persuasive too. Goodness, righteousness, spreads not so much by the wafting of winged words as by the leavening influence of contact. Arguments in proof of religion are indeed of the greatest importance as fortresses of defense. They silence attack, but seldom directly win to the religious life. The witnessing power of the Church lies more in the manifested and communicated fruits of the Spirit than even in the proclamation of gospel truth. Said an

infidel : “I can get along with all the defenses of Christianity, but I cannot get over that godly man's life.” The great multitude of ingatherings into the fold of righteousness in all ages has come about when good men have taken their fellows by the hand saying, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.” This kind of influence runs through all spheres of life. There was a railway superintendent, now gone, whose incorruptible integrity, prodigious energy, clear and crisp mental workings, exactness and promptitude became the training-school of many other faithful and successful officials, and whose influence in church and society, in business and religion made a mark on other men that a lifetime will not efface. I have known the skillful physician whose genial spirit and cheery way were as curative as his medicine, and whose good citizenship was a benediction. I have known the lawyer who habitually quenched litigation and spread peace. I have known the business man whose money was blessed in the getting and in the using; and the sturdy farmer whose heart bore richer harvests than his luxuriant cornfields. And we know how Daniel Peyton rode down the valley of the Conemaugh shouting warnings to the unwary, till the flood drowned his voice.

The light may shine in every sphere, brighter in the highest. What an almost divine power for long years went forth from the simple devotion and lucid intellect of Mark Hopkins, for which thousands of young men have lived to bless his memory! On the other hand how strangely different was the total effect of another life, in another land, but almost coincident with his in date and duration! Thomas Carlyle was a more brilliant person. There was a keen insight, a rousing power, a gorgeous imagination, a fiery splendor of thought and diction which touched many a young man half a century ago like a magic wand. We shall never cease to be grateful for that earlier inspiration. But what was the total fruitage, especially of his later life? He has left some striking monuments of his artistic power and his historic and literary mastery — together, also, with many a rash utterance and reckless outburst. But philosophy of life, or plain guide or help to true living, he gave us not. It might be too harsh to say with Frederic Harrison that his talk about “the Immensities and Unspeakabilities " was “cant and nothing else.” One would be glad absolutely to dispute his further verdict, that with whatever Biblical words on his lips, “in his heart he really believed in nothing. All beliefs, demonstrations, certainties of other people he swept away. And so,” he adds,

And so," he adds, “one who has written some of the most powerful books of this century, and deeply stirred the minds of the past generation, has passed away without leaving more than a chapter in the history of literature, without founding anything, leaving behind him to carry on his work two or three men who have just learned to mimic his cloudy jeremiads." The picture is overdrawn. Would it were wholly false! Alas for the work that is chiefly critical, scornful, and destructive! It is a will-o'-the-wisp hovering over a morass.

« PreviousContinue »