You cannot take any step rightfully or hopefully, until you know the truth. But an intellectual knowledge of the truth is of no avail. Suppose the whole world knew the truth, and yet stood still with folded hands. What would it benefit anyone? A knowledge of the truth is the first thing necessary; but religion is not something simply to have, it is something to be done. Find out the truth, then, concerning your inner life, concerning the relation in which you ought to stand to your fellow-men, concerning the relation in which you ought to stand toward the infinite Power that compasses us around; and then, when you have found out the truth, incarnate it. Do it. Work it into institutions and deeds. Suppose you know the truth concerning the perfect Kingdom of God on earth, of what avail is that? Go on, and build that kingdom.
The Communion of Saints Modern science, so far from taking away this grand doctrine of communion of saints, teaches it to us in the law of evolution by an accumulation of facts, that the world never conceived before. We do not bear the root, as the apostle says; the root bears us. We are simply a branch, a twig, a bud, of the common life of the world, and all that is of value in us individually we derive from this communion that we hold in this common life. We have been developed by it; and this conviction of the common life of the race bears us up, and thrills our veins with this life.
Believe that you are a child of God, placed here amid these natural and social relations that you may perfect yourself in mind and heart and character, both for your own and others' sake, and to fit yourself for your ultimate heritage of immortality. Do this, and your life will acquire dignity, character, and peace. But, if you think meanly of yourself, you will almost inevitably become ignoble and unhappy. Remember, it is looking downward that makes one dizzy. Look up, and your brain clears, your heart grows calm, and strength comes to you for every task and every emergency. Think of yourself, therefore, nobly, and you will live nobly. You will realize on earth that type of character and faith which is the highest ideal alike of philosopher and hero and saint.
Seed Enough for This Harvest The winds from all quarters of the globe bring seed enough, and there is nothing wanting but preparation of the soil, and freedom in the atmosphere, for ripening of a new and golden harvest.
We are sad that we cannot be present at the gathering in of this harvest. And we are joyous, too, when we think that though our name may not be writ on the pillar of our country’s fame, we can really do far more towards rearing it, than those who come at a later period and to a seemingly fairer task. Now, the humblest effort, made in a noble spirit, and with religious hope, cannot fail to be even infinitely useful. Whether we introduce some noble model from another time and clime, to encourage aspiration in our own, or cheer into blossom the simplest wood-flower that ever rose from the earth, moved by the genuine impulse to grow, independent of the lures of money or celebrity; whether we speak boldly when fear or doubt keep others silent, or refuse to swell the popular cry upon an unworthy occasion, the spirit of truth, purely worshipped, shall turn our acts and forbearances alike to profit, informing them with oracles which the latest time shall bless.
Religion is not a little fenced-off enclosure, within which all is sacred, and outside of which all is secular and profane. There is no such distinction to be drawn. Religion is life, character, conduct; it reaches up to God and down into the smallest details of daily duty; it covers everything. Therefore let your business teach you what the Church cannot. Make your common daily work an instructor in divine things. Fill up the measure of your daily life with all that is pure and good and true, and these lowly, temporal things shall be as the first rounds of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. This is clearly the appointed order of development; first, that which is natural; afterward, that which is spiritual. The heights of spiritual attainment can only be safely reached by those who begin low down and mount upward by patient continuance in well-doing; by daily faithfulness in that which is least. But we should never accomplish this were it not ordained of God that all the laws and facts and conditions of human life work together for the good of these faithful ones.
— Charles H. Wellbeloved (1835-1903)
Converting Life into Truth
Whenever the pulpit is usurped by a formalist, then is the worshipper defrauded and disconsolate. We shrink as soon as the prayers begin, which do not uplift, but smite and offend us. We are fain to wrap our cloaks about us, and secure, as best we can, a solitude that hears not. I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more. Men go, thought I, where they are wont to go, else had no soul entered the temple in the afternoon. A snow storm was falling around us. The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking at him, and then out of the window behind him, into the beautiful meteor of the snow. He had lived in vain. He had no one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived and acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital secret of his profession, namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned. Not one fact in all his experience, had he yet imported into his doctrine. This man had ploughed, and planted, and talked, and bought, and sold; he had read books; he had eaten and drunken; his head aches; his heart throbs; he smiles and suffers; yet was there not a surmise, a hint, in all the discourse, that he had ever lived at all. Not a line did he draw out of real history. The true preacher can be known by this, that he deals out to the people his life, — life passed through the fire of thought. But of the bad preacher, it could not be told from his sermon, what age of the world he fell in; whether he had a father or a child; whether he was a freeholder or a pauper; whether he was a citizen or a countryman; or any other fact of his biography. It seemed strange that the people should come to church. It seemed as if their houses were very unentertaining, that they should prefer this thoughtless clamor. It shows that there is a commanding attraction in the moral sentiment, that can lend a faint tint of light to dulness and ignorance, coming in its name and place. The good hearer is sure he has been touched sometimes; is sure there is somewhat to be reached, and some word that can reach it. When he listens to these vain words, he comforts himself by their relation to his remembrance of better hours, and so they clatter and echo unchallenged.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
From his Divinity School Address, delivered July 15, 1838