The Doctrine of Life: With Some of Its Theological Applications/A Law of Life

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The Doctrine of Life: With Some of Its Theological Applications.
VII—A Law of Life.
Back. William B. Greene. Forward.

IT will be necessary, before proceeding further, to indicate a law, according to which all transmission of life, higher than that at any given time extant in the race, is regulated. This law may not be general, but applicable only to a race lost, like ours, in sin. In every actual man, we find the free force, the being that lives, in connection with the ideas in which he lives, and his past experiences, including all those circumstances which have had a lasting effect upon his character. These ideas, this experience, are what is called the nature of the individual man, and are what individualize him, making him to be one man, rather than another.

So much of this inward nature as is manifested in the man's actions, forms what is called his character. In and through a man's actions, we perceive his character; in and through his character, we perceive his nature. But we perceive only so much of his nature as enters into his character, and only so much of his character as enters into his acts. This distinction, between the nature and character, though somewhat nice, is real.

We never know any one as he is in himself; we never know his nature directly. When we perceive the manifestations of a man's activity, we perceive the man as actor, and in the character of the manifestations, we perceive the nature of the man.

Our character is that part of us which forms the objective portion of other men's lives. For men live in our acts, and through the character which is manifested in those acts, the influence, which exerts a determining power upon their lives, is imparted from us to them. But nothing is manifested in our character, the germ of which was not already in our nature. In order, therefore, that we should be able to transmit life to other men, we must first have the requisite conditions in our nature, and then those conditions must be outwardly manifested in a corresponding character.

We have, among men, the oppressor and the oppressed, the violent and the victim, the sinner and the sinned against. These opposite classes are continually exchanging situations with each other; the victim becomes in his turn the oppressor, and the oppressor the victim. But at any given moment of time, and for that moment, the lines which separate these two classes from each other, may be conceived as drawn. At that moment, we shall have the sinners on one side, and the sinned against on the other.

What, in this crisis, would it be necessary to do, in order that sin should disappear from the world?

This question evidently concerns the sinners only; for the victims are very willing that such a state of things should cease, and require DO further inducement to lend their efforts. It remains, therefore, to inquire what influences it would be necessary to bring to bear upon the sinner, to induce him to join with the sinned against, in the regeneration of the world.

In the present condition of the race, the oppressor thinks it advantageous to maintain his existing relations with the oppressed; and every kind of sin presents apparent inducements to the sinner, which outweigh the voice of conscience. No sinner can turn from his evil course without denying himself, and sacrificing what he thinks to be his own interest and pleasure.

The state of the question is therefore changed. Instead of asking, what is it necessary that we should do, that sin may cease from the earth? we ask, what influences must be brought to bear upon the sinner to induce him to deny himself, and sacrifice his own momentary interest and pleasure to the welfare of the race?

To this question we answer that he must be instructed in the truth, that he must know the principles upon which the welfare of the race depends; and not only know them, but also be disposed to practice them. It is not enough that the truth be taught; for this truth, though welcome to the sinned against, will not be regarded by the sinner. The truth must be taught, and with it a disinterested love infused into the race. The truth would show men the way in which they might remove evil, and disinterested love would cause them to forego their own interest and pleasure, when it interferes with the welfare of others. This love would induce them to suffer, rather than any thing beneficial to the human race should fail to be put in operation. Without this truth, and without this self-denying spirit, we can expect nothing from the sinner.

But a succession of moments, like the one we have been considering, constitutes all time; and that which would be sufficient for the suppression of sin, at one moment, would, if continued, be sufficient for all time; for the relation between the sinner and the sinned against is always the same.

These remarks being premised, let us endeavour to bring out the law regulating the transmission of life.

1st. Whoever would reform the world, by imparting a higher life, must infuse into men, ideas, principles, which counteract the evil tendencies now acting on the race.

2d. These ideas (because they are of the kind spoken of page 24) can be imparted only through human conduct,—the reformer, therefore, must enact them.

3d. But these principles relate to self-denial, patient endurance of unmerited wrong, self sacrifice for the welfare of others; they can, consequently, be manifested, or enacted, only through suffering, either bodily or mental.

4th. Therefore, for every such principle transmitted, the reformer must undergo a commensurate amount of suffering.

As the proportion between the amount of life transmitted, and the amount of suffering requisite for that transmission, cannot be ascertained in the present state of knowledge, we have used the word commensurate, rather than proportional. We will also remark, that we have brought out but one phase of this law; a little attention to the circumstances attending the death of Socrates, and the persecutions of Roger Bacon and Galileo, may suggest some of the others to the reader.

Let us now endeavor to give a more concise expression to this law:

Whoever would infuse a higher life into the race must himself suffer to an amount commensurate with the amount of life to be communicated.

But a drop of water, taken from the ocean and analysed, is found to be composed of the same original elements which go to make up the whole body of the ocean itself. In like manner, a man taken from the midst of the race, is a miniature model of entire humanity. Yet this general life of humanity, although there is always a limit to the natural development of man at any epoch of the worlds history, is received in different intensity by different men. The individual man may appropriate to himself the highest life that is in humanity,—he may live in the highest objects attainable,—so that, between him and the rest of men, there shall be an almost immeasurable gulf; but with all this, he can transcend only individual men, he cannot transcend humanity, The objects of his life are found in the race; and, as it is evident that man cannot live without an object, it is equally evident that he can never place himself in advance of humanity unless assisted by supernatural power—unless he live in something in which other men do not live, something, in fine, not found in humanity. That an individual man could place himself in advance of humanity, without supernatural aid, would imply that the man could create the object of his life, which again implies more than supernatural power. In order, therefore, that a man should be able to impart to the race a life higher than it already has, he must himself live a super-human life,—but this in our next chapter.