Read A Man's Value to Society Online

Authors: Newell Dwight Hillis

A Man's Value to Society (6 page)

BOOK: A Man's Value to Society
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Seeking to fulfill their noble ministry, ideals have grievous enemies. Among these let us include vanity and pride. When the wise man said, "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him," he indicated that he had known fools cured of their folly, but never a vain man cured of his vanity. Pliny said: "It is as hard to instruct pride as it is to fill an empty bottle with a cork in it." Some men are constitutionally vain. They think all creation converges toward one center, and they are that center. The rash of conceit commonly runs its course very early in life. With most it is like the prancing and gayety of an untrained colt; the cure is the plow and harness. Failure also is a curative agent, and so also is success. But chiefly do the ideals rebuke conceit. The imagination is God in the soul, and lifting up the possible achievement, the glory of what men may become, shames and makes contemptible what men are.

Indolence and contentment also antagonize the ideals. Men bring together a few generosities and integrities. Soul-misers, men gloat over these, as money-misers over their shining treasure, content with the little virtue they have. But no man has a right to fulfill a stagnant career; life is not to be a puddle, but a sweet and running stream. No man has a right to rust; he is bound to keep his tools bright by usage. No man has a right to be paralyzed; he is bound to enlarge and grow. So ideals come in to compel men to go forward. It is easier to lie down in a thorn hedge, or to sleep in a field of stinging nettles, than for a man to abide contentedly as he is while his ideals scourge him upward.

Chiefly do the malign elements oppose the ideal life. There is enmity between vulgarity and visions. If anger comes, mirth goes; when greed is in the ascendency, generosity is expelled. If, during a chorus of bird-voices in the forest, only the shadow of an approaching hawk falls upon the ground, every sweet voice is hushed. Thus, if but one evil, hawk-like note is heard in the heart, all the nobler joys and aspirations depart. The higher life is at enmity with the lower, and this war is one of extermination.

Oh, all ye young hearts! guard well one rock that is fatal to all excellence. If ever you have broken faith with your ideals, lift them up and renew faith. Cherish ideals as the traveler cherishes the north star, and keep the guiding light pure and bright and high above the horizon. The vessel may lose its sails and masts, but if it only keeps its course and compass, the harbor may be reached. Once it loses the star for steering by, the voyage must end in shipwreck. For when the heroic purpose goes, all life's glory departs. Let no man think the burial of a widow's son the saddest sight on earth. Let men not mourn over the laying of the first born under the turf, as though that were man's chiefest sorrow. Earth knows no tragedy like the death of the soul's ideals. Therefore, battle for them as for life itself! The cynic may ridicule them, because, having lost his own purity and truth, he naturally thinks that none are pure or true; but wise men will take counsel of aspirations and ideals. Even low things have power for incitement. No dead tree in the forest so unsightly but that some generous woodbine will wrap a robe of beauty about its nakedness. No cellar so dark but if there is a fissure through which the sunlight falls the plant will reach up its feeble tendrils to be blessed by the warming ray. Yet the soul is from God, is higher than vine or tree, and should aspire toward Him who stirs these mysterious aspirations in the heart.

The soul is like a lost child. It wanders a stranger in a strange land. Full oft it is heartsick, for even the best things content it for but a little while. Daily, mysterious ideals throb and throb within. It struggles with a vagrant restlessness. It goes yearning after what it does not find. A deep, mysterious hunger rises. It would fain come to itself. In its ideal hours it sees afar off the vision that tempts it on and up toward home and heaven. The secret of man is the secret of his vision hours. These tell him whence he came--and whither he goes. Then Christ became the soul's guide; God's heart, the soul's home.

THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF CHARACTER

"Health is the vital principle of bliss."--
Thompson.

"Good nature is often a mere matter of health. With good digestion men are apt to be good natured; with bad digestion, morose."--
Beecher.

"A man so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will, and does with equal ease and pleasure all the work that as a mechanism it is capable of,--whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic-engine, with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order, ready like a steam engine to be turned to any kind of work, and spin the gossamers as well as forge the anchors of the mind."--
Huxley.

"Finally, I have one advice which is of very great importance. You are to consider that health is a thing to be attended to continually, as the very highest of all temporal things. There is no kind of an achievement equal to perfect health. What to it are nuggets or millions?"--
Carlyle's Address to Students at Edinburgh.

"Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty: For in my youth I never did apply Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood: Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo The means of weakness and debility; Therefore my age is as a lusty winter, Frosty but kindly."

--"
As You Like It
," ii: 3.

IV

THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF CHARACTER

Ancient society looked upon the human body with the utmost veneration. The citizen of Thebes or Memphis knew no higher ambition than a competency for embalming his body. Men loved unto death and beyond it the physical house in which the soul dwelt. Every instinct of refinement and self-respect revolted from the thought of discarding the body like a cast-off garment or worn-out tool. In his dying hour it was little to Rameses that his career was to be pictured on obelisk and preserved in pyramid, but it was very much to the King that the embalmer should give permanency to the body with which his soul had gone singing, weeping and loving through three-score years and ten. The papyrus found in the tombs tells us that the soldiers of that far-off age did not fear death itself more than they feared falling in some secluded spot where the body, neglected and forgotten, would quickly give its elements back to air and earth. How noble the sentiment that attached dignity and honor to hand and foot! Sacred, doubly sacred, was the body that had served the soul long and faithfully!

The soul is a city, and as Thebes had many gateways through which passed great caravans laden with goodly treasure, so the five senses are gateways through which journey all earth's sights and sounds. Through the golden gate of the ear have gone what noble truths, companying together what messengers of affection, what sweet friendships. The eye is an Appian Way over which have gone all the processions of the seasons. How do hand and vision protect man? Hunters use sharp spears for keeping back wild beasts, but Livingstone, armed only with eye beams, drove a snarling beast into the thicket, and Luther, lifting his great eyes upon an assassin, made the murderer flee. What flute or harp is comparable for sweetness to the voice? It carries warning and alarm. It will speak for you, plead for you, pray for you. Truly it is an architect, fulfilling Dante's dictum, "piling up mountains of melody." Serving the soul well, the body becomes sacred by service. Therefore man loves and guards the physical house in which he lives.

Always objects and places associated with life's deep joys and sorrows become themselves sacred through these associations. The flock passing through the forest leaves some white threads behind. The bird lines its nest with down from its own bosom. Thus the heart, going forward, leaves behind some treasure, and perfumes its path. Memory hangs upon the tree the whispered confession made beneath its branches. No palace so memorable as the little house where you were reared, no charter oak so historic as the trees under which you played, no river Nile so notable as the little brook that once sung to your sighing, no volume or manuscript so precious as the letter and Testament your dying father pressed into your hand. Understanding this principle, nations guard the manuscript of the sage, the sword of the general, the flag stained with heroes' blood. Memorable forever the little room where Milton wrote, the cottage where Shakespeare dwelt, the spot where Dante dreamed, the ruin where Phidias wrought. But no building ever showed such comely handiwork as the temple built by divine skill. God hath made the soul's house fair to look upon. Death may close its doors, darken its windows, and pull down its pillars; still, its very ruins are precious, to be guarded with jealous care. How sacred the spot where lie the parents that tended us, the bosom that shielded our infancy, the hands that carried our weakness everywhither. Men will always deem the desecration of the body or the grave blasphemous. The physical house, standing, is the temple of God; falling, it must forever be sacred in man's memory.

Science teaches us to look upon the body as a thinking machine. As a mental mechanism it exhibits the divine being as an inventor, who has produced a machine as much superior to Watt's engine, as that engine is superior to a clod or stone. In this divine mechanism all intricate and enduring machines are combined in one. Imagine an instrument so delicate as to be at once a telescope and microscope, at one moment witnessing the flight of a sun hundreds of millions of miles away, then quickly adjusted for seeing the point of the finest needle! Imagine a machine that at one and the same moment can feel the gratefulness of the blazing fire, taste the sweetness of an orange, experience the Ʀsthetic delights of a picture, recall the events in the careers of the men the artist has delineated, recognize the entrance of a group of friends, out of the confusion of tongues lead forth a voice not heard for years, thrill with elation at the unexpected meeting! The very mention of such an instrument, combining audiphone, telephone, phonograph, organ, loom, and many other mechanisms yet to be invented, seems like some tale from the "Arabian Nights." Yet the body and brain make up such a wondrous mental loom, weaving thought-textures called conversations, poems, orations, making the creations of a Jacquard loom mere child's play. The body is like a vast mental depot with lines running out into all the world. Everything outside has a desk inside where it transacts its special line of business. There is a visual desk where sunbeams make up their accounts; an aural desk where melodies conduct their negotiations; a memory desk where actions and motives are recorded; a logical desk where reasons and arguments are received and filed. Truly God hath woven the bones and sinews that fence the soul about into a mechanism "fearfully and wonderfully made."

To-day science is writing for us the story of the ascent of the body. Scholars perceive that matter has fulfilled its mission now that dust stands erect, throbbing in a thinking brain, and beating in a glowing heart. Ours is a world wherein God hath ordained that acorns should go on toward oaks, huts become houses, tents temples, babes men, and the generations journey on to that sublime event "toward which the whole creation moves." In this long upward march science declares the human body has had its place. Professor Drummond, famed for his Christian faith, in his recent volume tells us that man's body brings forward and combines in itself all the excellencies of the whole lower animal creation. As the locomotive of to-day contains the engine of Watt and the improvements of all succeeding inventors; as the Hoe printing-press contains the rude hand-machine of Guttenberg and the best features of all the machines that followed it; so the human body contains the special gift of all earlier and lower forms of animal life. In making a reaper the machinist does not begin with the sickle, and then unite the hook with the scythe, afterward joining thereto the rude reaper and so move on through all the improving types. But in the germinal man, nature does adopt just this method. As the embryo life develops it passes into and through the likeness of each lower animal, and ever journeying upward carries with it the special grace and gift of each creature it has left behind, "sometimes a bone, or a muscle, or a ganglion," until the excellencies of many lower forms are compacted in the one higher man. In the human body there are now seventy vestigial structures, e.g., vermiform appendices, useful in the lower life but worse than useless in man. When an anatomist discovered an organ in a certain animal he foretold its rudimentary existence in the embryonic man, and we are told his prophecy was fulfilled through the microscope, "just as the planet Neptune was discovered after its existence had been predicted from the disturbances produced in the orbit of Uranus." As some noble gallery owes its supremacy to centuries of toil and represents treasures brought in from every clime and country, so the human body represents contributions from land and sea, and members and organs from innumerable creatures that creep and walk and fly.

Thus man's descent from the animals has been displaced by the ascent of the human body. This is not degradation, but an unspeakable exaltation. Man is "fearfully and wonderfully made." God ordained the long upward march for making his body exquisitely sensitive and fitted to be the home of a divine mind. How marvelously does this view enhance the dignity of man, and clothe God with majesty and glory! It is a great thing for the inventor to construct a watch. But what if genius were given some jeweler to construct a watch carrying the power to regulate itself, and when worn out to reproduce itself in another watch of a new and higher form, endowing it at the same time with power for handing forward this capacity for self-improvement? Is not the wisdom and skill required for making a watch that is self-adjusting, self-improving, and self-succeeding vastly more than the wisdom required to construct a simple timepiece? Should science finally establish the new view, already adopted by practically all biologists, it will but substitute the method of gradualism and an unfolding progression for a human body created by an instantaneous and peremptory fiat. But this is a question for specialists and experts. Those scholars who accept this view, including such thinkers as the late President McCosh, of Princeton; Dana, of Yale; such teachers as Caird, Drummond, and scores who could be named, all renowned for their Christian belief and life, find that these new views do not waste faith, but rather nourish it. Formerly men feared and fought Newton's doctrine of gravity, trembling lest that principle should destroy belief. To-day many are troubled because of the new views of development. But it is possible for one to believe in evolution, and still believe in God with all the mind and soul and strength. Strangely enough, some are unwilling to have ascended progressively from an animal, but quite willing to have come up directly from the clod. But either origin is good enough providing man has ascended far enough from the clod and the animal, and made some approach to the angel. Some there are for whom no descent seems possible--they can go no lower; dwelling now with beasts; others seem to have made no ascent whatever, but to be even now upon the plane of things that crawl and creep. Let us leave the question to the scientists. By whatever way the body came, mentality and spirituality have now been engrafted upon it. Man is no longer animal, but spiritual; and the wondrous development of man upon this side of the grave is the pledge and promise of a long progress beyond the grave, when the divine spirit by his secret resources shall lead forth from men, emotions, dispositions, and aspirations as much beyond the present thought and life as the tree is beyond the seed and the low-lying roots.

BOOK: A Man's Value to Society
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

This Enemy Town by Marcia Talley
Evaleigh by Stark, Alexia
The Aftermath by Jen Alexander
The Perfect Death by James Andrus
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt