Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

own statesmen, — Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Hamilton, Webster, Sumner, -- and then turn to the demagogues whose only purpose is to deceive the people by adroit cunning and amusing tricks ; who sneer at reform, and imagine the salvation of the country to depend on the election of a popular or influential politician. A great training, splendid ability, and insignificant objects, - in this sentence is pronounced the decay and fall of many a reputation of our time. Only those who exert their powers for the good of the country will be remembered twenty years after death. Men of low aims, however brilliant, are often forgotten even in their lifetime.

An eminent warning of the nullity of vast powers with no sufficient aim is to be found in the case of the first Napoleon. No other man of such genius has appeared in our century. His faculties of observation, judgment, invention, divination, and his mental grasp, were almost preternatural. When planning a campaign, he saw the possibilities before him, the events which would occur, as other men see them after they have happened. In that one brain there was a power which more than outweighed the generalship and statesmanship of the rest of Europe. The “Code Napoleon” shows what he might have effected had he devoted himself to the improvement of France, the education of its people, the development of good institutions. Had he done this he might have carried forward the civilization of Europe a hundred years, laid the foundation of a permanent peace among nations, shown how poverty, crime, intemperance, idleness could be reformed and cured. His genius was adequate to it all. Instead, he adopted the vulgar aim of a commonplace conqueror like Charles XII. or Frederick the Great, and his whole life-work passed out of sight in a single generation.

Another example of great mental power combined with low aims is that of Lord Byron. His poetic genius surpasses that of any other writer since the time of Milton. He joined with a miraculous command of language and control of verse the most tender and noble insight into the beauty of Nature and the experiences of life. His poetry was like the fountain of Helicon breaking afresh from the soil. But this majestic and lovely language and imagery is wasted on thoughts empty of value, or filled with a shallow scepticism. Byron believed in nothing, and therefore had nothing to say. His fame was like the Northern lights, which lighten up half of the heavens with columns of rosy fire and darting coruscations, but disappear when at dawn the true aurora arrives. But he who, like Milton, Wordsworth, Dante, has a high purpose, together with a great poetic fancy, illuminates long periods with his beneficent light.

Such is power without aim. What is aim without power? Alas! we see also examples enough of this; of those who choose objects for which they are inadequate. Poets who do not know how to sing; literary people who cannot write. There are reformers who propose to save the world, but who have not force enough in them to reform themselves. There are many loud-voiced prophets of a new era who come before us professing to preach some new and everlasting gospel, but are not able to make themselves intelligible. They have not power even to explain what they mean, much less to convince men of the truth of what they say.

The beginning of the natural life in little children shows us power without an adequate aim. The beginning of the spiritual life in older persons often presents the opposite experience, - that of aim without adequate power. As soon as one endeavors seriously to do his duty, to love God and man, to follow Christ, to become a good man; that is, as soon as he adopts a truly divine and heavenly aim of living, he finds his powers are not equal to it. “The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.” He means to do right, and does wrong. He makes good resolutions, and presently breaks them. “I see the better way, and approve it,” said the Latin poet, “but I follow the worse.” “I see then that when I would do good evil is present with me,” responds the Jewish apostle. “I believe, O Cyrus,” cried the Asiatic Araspes, “that I have two souls. When the good one prevails, it does noble things; when the bad one conquers, evil ones.” Thus from various races of mankind comes the declaration of how

hard it is to keep up to the point of a high purpose, even when we have reached it. How easy to step backward; how easy to forget our good intentions !

What, then, shall we do about it? One of two things. Our power is not equal to our aim. That is the difficulty. We can then either let down our aim till it becomes equal to our power, or raise our power till it is equal to the aim.

The first method is that of numbei less persons. When they find that “old Adam is too strong for young Melanchthon,” they say, “Be not righteous overmuch; why shouldst thou destroy thyself? Do not try to be better than others. If one is as good as the average, that is enough.” This way of thinking kills aspiration, hope, generous endeavor. We yield to the current and drift downward. The enthusiastic boy hardens into the worldly man. He laughs at the dreams of his youth. He sinks into habit, routine, and self-indulgence. That, I think, is not the best way out of the difficulty.

But how we reverence the man and the woman who take the other way. These are they who do not forget the dreams of their youth, — who are always advancing, always looking for something better and higher. As they grow old, the weight of years and cares is not heavier, but lighter. They take more cheerful, more hopeful views of the world's future. They grow more generous, more faithful, more tender, more true. Need I remind you of these good spirits ? They are with us and

around us. They have power and aim both, - the two halves of human felicity. Their power is more full, their aim more sure.

Emerson himself was one of these, and so was Longfellow. Both aimed at some divine truth, some heavenly beauty, a larger communion, a loftier life. And both had power to the last, to move and sway, to influence and attract, to lift others around them to a higher faith.

More than any other who ever lived, Jesus joined a perfect aim with a fulness of power. His life was devoted to help and save mankind from the lowest evils, and to raise the world to the highest plane. He had power from God to do this. God gave him the spirit without measure, and the result was a transformed humanity.

So the apostle Paul united power and aim. His life, also, was spent in incessant labors to spread the gospel of truth and love. And he did it with such power that he saw Christianity planted in Europe, and a religion begun there which would unite many races and nations in a common faith.

These, you may say, are men of genius, men of inspiration, exceptional men. But do you not know others, by no means exceptional, not great in the world's eye, but whose lives are given to good things? These are the simple, unpretending followers of Christ. They make no profession. They do not talk of their sacrifices; they find a pure joy in doing good. Their aim in life has become a part of themselves. They find it more blessed to give than

« AnteriorContinuar »