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BEGINNING AT THE RIGHT END.
“ That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual.”
N common life and practice we recognize the
importance of beginning at the right end. There are strict, stern laws in nature which command us to follow the right order in all that we do; which say “First the blade, then the ear, afterward the full corn in the ear.” The farmer must plough before he can sow; the builder must lay the foundation before he finishes the interior; the artist must make his sketches before he paints his landscape; the physician must begin with a study of symptoms before he proceeds to his indications of cure; the lawyer's brief must be prepared before he can argue his case.
If you propose to build a railroad, you begin by making your surveys and selecting your route. In the domain of external nature everything must be in its own order, - this thing first and that second.
When we come to work done in the soul of man, the same is true. The same law of method applies, and it is because we do not see clearly the mental and moral processes in the human mind that we fail to perceive this fact. Mistakes and harm come from trying to do the second thing before we have done the first, and not taking everything in its own order.
The law of mental progress is that one should begin with the easy and go on to the difficult; begin with the simple, and proceed to the complex; begin with the concrete fact, and go on to the abstract law; become familiar with the first step before proceeding to the second. When this law is neglected in education the result is unfortunate. If you try to teach little children the abstractions of grammar, of logic, of history, instead of simple facts and laws, you stupefy the poor things; you do not teach them. You can compel them to repeat, by rote, abstract rules, and to give learned answers to your questions; but the little child does not learn anything. He is repeating words without sense. But when you begin at the right end in teaching, and follow the method of nature, bow fast and how gladly the child learns! Each new acquisition of knowledge connects itself with what went before, and grows naturally out of it, roots itself naturally in it. Having taken the first step, the second becomes easy, and then the third follows as a matter of course.
The best illustration of this is mathematics. How incredible it seems that man should be able to calculate an eclipse a thousand years beforehand; to measure the distance of the sun and stars; to weigh the planets in scales, and the moon in a balance ; to survey the pathless march of a comet from outside darkness till it falls toward the sun. The North American Indian tracks his foe through the woods by the slight indications of a broken twig or a stone turned over by the foot. But the astronomer tracks his planet, as it pursues its way through space, where no eye has ever seen it, and where it leaves no visible trace of its path, he tracks it by the slight quivering produced by its attraction on another planet, one hundred millions of miles away. Now, this is all done by beginning at the right end; by first adding one to two, and then two to three. It is by taking a great many steps, each one of which is simple and easy; for if taken in proper order each one prepares the way for the next.
Now, when God, in his providence, sent Christianity into the world, he proceeded on the same plan. He sent other religions before it to prepare its way. That was not first which was spiritual, but that which was natural, and afterward that which was spiritual. The law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Moses came first, to prepare the way by his ten commandments; and then the prophets followed, taking another step up out of the religion of form into the religion of spirit; and
then came John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; and at last, when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son. We all admit that the religion of Moses was preparatory to that of Christ. But more is true. God did not disinherit the rest of the human race; he gave them their religions too. Confucius in China; Zoroaster in Persia; the Vedas in India; the religions of Egypt, Greece, Rome; the philosophy of Anaxagoras, Socrates, Zeno, Plato, - these were all stepping-stones by which humanity crossed the abyss of darkness and evil, and came up toward the Son of Man. Inconceivably grand does the character of Jesus appear when thus regarded as the summit of humanity, as the fulfilment of Pagan as well as Jewish prophecy; as the Christ foretold by the Gentiles as well as by the Jews; as
“ One far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.” God, in teaching religion to mankind, began with primary schools. Confucius taught, in one, respect for parents and superiors. Zoroaster taught, in another, to think purely, speak purely, and act purely. Buddha taught, in another, the immutability of law and the certainty of retribution. We may even say that as we now teach little children by object lessons, so Divine Providence used a similar method, and allowed the infantile mind of the race visible and objective prayers. Men were allowed to say their prayers by outward sacrifices. If a man was
grateful, he offered a bullock as a thank-offering to God; if he was penitent, he brought a lamb as a sin-offering. This may be called the liturgy of the whole ethnic or Gentile world. Only the Persians did without it, for they had their diviner symbols in the skies. The sun, the moon, the planets, the flaming star Sirius, – these made their ritual services; the mountains were their temples, and an ever-burning fire their prayer-book. Thus did humanity worship, in its simple childhood, — sincerely but ignorantly; but when Jesus came, humanity became a man, and put away childish things. It passed out of object lessons into books; out of the primary school into the grammar school and high school. The day for sacrifices and a sacrificial worship was over.
“ Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, shall men worship the Father,” but only in spirit and in truth.
But afterward the Church made the same mistake which we make in our schools when we teach little children abstractions instead of concrete facts.
For example, the little children in the Boston grammar schools have been taught till recently and perhaps are still taught such lessons as these :
“A consonant denotes a contact of some of the organs of speech."
"Etymology treats of the true roots and the true and right forms of words to put in sentences according to syntax.”
“A participle is a form of the word which merely