Universal Brotherhood Path – November 1901

LOVE AND KNOWLEDGE — S. J. Neill

The Need of a Larger Love for Humanity and the Knowledge to Apply It

There are two opposite poles in human nature, love and hate, or selfishness. The sum of human misery is mainly the result of selfishness, leading to injustice, strife and death. The cure is in unselfish action, based on pure love and compassion, and operating under the direction of Wisdom.

There is great need for a larger love of humanity, and not only for that, but for the proper wisdom to apply this larger love. Men perish for two reasons: — lack of wisdom, and lack of right desires. There may be great knowledge, and yet the possessor of this knowledge may be selfish. Some of the powerful men of the world have been selfish, and, as a consequence, their powers have not tended to benefit men, but rather the opposite. On the other hand, many have been well-meaning, but have lacked the wisdom to carry out to a successful issue their good intentions.

The evils sometimes resulting from ill-directed motives have led one of the poets to say, "'Twere hard to tell whether greater want of skill there be in thinking or in judging ill." Wrong judgment, or lack of discretion, even where the intentions are excellent, may lead to most disastrous results.

As a rule, however, the miseries under which the world groans today result chiefly from selfishness, and its consequent injustice. As society grows more complex it becomes less easy to trace the evil workings of selfishness. In our commerce, our financial system, our complex industries, it is often not easy to say, "here is where right dealing stops and wrong dealing begins." Nations as well as individuals will sometimes try to shelter their conduct under the plea, "If we had not done so and so, some one else would." We may be individually the cause of the "Sweating System" by seeking for cheap things, and yet we may not always benefit the workman by giving the seller a high price for an article.

It is plain that under the complex conditions of modern society, and the load of misery which is entailed, that the cure must be deep, radical and lasting. The passing of better laws may be some help, but it is not always the panacea that some suppose. And even the improved laws must result from a growing love for humanity. While it is quite true that "you cannot make people honest, or sober, or truthful, or loving by act of Parliament," yet all legislation for the betterment of the nation must spring out of a love for the welfare of the nation. It will therefore be seen that the thought-plane is the realm where the improvement must begin. Of course it should not stop there, it should descend to the plane of action, to the plane of ordinary life. Dickens and other writers have held up to deserved ridicule those who neglect home duties, and duties close at hand, for the glamour or excitement of great things in some distant land.

Our love, our charity, our compassion should expand as the flowers expand, from within outward, leaving no yawning gaps between the center and the outmost rim. The love of home, the love of one's friend, the love of one's country; these are the natural steps to that greater love of humanity. To dissipate our energy talking of the good of humanity has been the way of some who have left behind them little else than "talk," and who have shown the hollowness of their profession by neglecting the duties nearest them. Some who talk much of reforming the world have not been very pleasant people to live with. But the true reformers, the true helpers of humanity, have ever been sound at heart, true and compassionate from the very center to the utmost circumference of life. It is this heart-soundness which has made their lives a lasting power — a light and saving health to the world.

Close observers of the business world can see that in the terrible struggle for gain the very countenances of those engaged in the mad race gradually assume a wolf-like aspect. They become less and less human. This is a sad state of things, and as we are all linked together it reacts on every member of the whole race. "We are members one of another, and if one member suffers the other members suffer also."

Universal Brotherhood is a fact in nature, and therefore, even on the ground of self-preservation, we must seek the regeneration of the world. But there is a higher ground than that. It is the peculiar nature of the Divine love that it seeks only the welfare of those who are in need. And this is the true love, the "larger love" for humanity which we must feel and show, in order to touch, and change, and save those who are wretched, and poor, and blind and naked, though often possessing much money and "moving in good society." It is only this "larger love" — this Divine, unselfish love — "which suffereth long, and is kind; which seeketh not its own; which is not easily provoked; which believeth all things; and hopeth all things;" it is only this larger love that can possess that patience which never fails, and which is so necessary to win the victory in the end, over selfishness, perverseness and all the things which hinder reform and man's salvation.

We have, all of us, the germ of this all-conquering love in our hearts, for we all have within us the Divine Life, and that Divine Life is Love itself; as the Scripture says, "God is Love." We have it, but we need to fan the spark into a flame. The flame must leap upward at the cry of human need. The cry of the suffering, the despairing, rises from every land. The dehumanizing influence of much of modern civilization is only too sadly apparent in all large towns. The evil, the misery, the degradation are pressing everywhere. The better instincts are being smothered, the aspirations are dwarfed and stunted, hope is giving way to a dull despairing endurance. Truly there is terrible need for a larger love for poor suffering humanity.

One of the first things needful in helping others is to make them feel that we really care for them, and that our action towards them springs not from the motives of any personal gain or aggrandizement, but out of pure and unselfish love. There have been, and there are, so many would-be helpers who have shown petty motives that suffering humanity has largely become skeptical of all helpers, and all schemes for its improvement. It must, therefore, take some time, even with the truest, loftiest and most genuine movement for reform, before the hearts of men outgrow the fear, and suspicion, and doubt born of many past failures. But there can be no doubt that once the heart of mankind is really touched, and a genuine feeling of hope and trust is begotten within it, little time will elapse before it rises and clasps the hands of its real helpers with a great cry of joy.

The larger love must also be the wiser love — ever trusting, always hoping, always patient. We need a mighty faith in the good result of good — we need to see and to feel that no good word, or thought, or deed falls fruitless to the ground.

With parents, with preachers, with statesmen, with reformers the temptation is often strong to give the spoilt children, the spoilt men and women what they cry for, rather than what they truly need for their salvation. Hence we can see the absolute necessity for wisdom co-operating with the larger love in the redemption of the race. The Scripture recognizes this truth where it says that though God is love, he is also a consuming fire; and that He kills to make alive. It can only be in the power of this all-wise love that the Great Helpers of humanity, seeing the sorrows which men bring upon themselves by wrong-doing, can behold with great compassion, but without tears; for they see the result of the "cleansing fires," the love that wounds to heal, and kills to make alive.

It may be that humanity must needs suffer yet more deeply before it becomes thoroughly convinced of the inevitable bitter results which must follow the wrong ways in which it has been acting — before it sees in noon-day clearness the hell to which all forms of selfishness inevitably lead. But along with the cry of the suffering should rise the song of hope, the tender voice of compassion, and the kindly touch of helping hands. In this way, it may be, the suffering will be shortened, and it will produce a softening and not a hardening effect on the souls of those who suffer.

The need for wisdom to guide good intentions has been made clearly manifest in this country. For again and again men and women have banded themselves together for the purpose of bettering the world, but their efforts were not guided by wisdom, and they consequently failed. It is at this point that the Universal Brotherhood appeals to the world. Moved by the larger love which works and waits, and will not fail, it is steering clear of those pitfalls into which so many "brotherhoods" and associations, in spite of their good intentions, have fallen.

Ruskin tells us that one of the words of Scripture which, all through life, proved helpful and sustaining to him was, "Let not mercy and judgment forsake thee." It is the Universal principle of all right action — compassion and wisdom joining hands in the great work of saving humanity. In no other way can the Race be lifted to a higher level: and by the conjoint action of these two divine qualities, true love and wisdom, the race must be lifted up out of all darkness, and established on a higher plane of life. Then will the cry of humanity be turned into a song: then will the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose; then men will believe in heaven, for it will have come in their hearts and lives — may these things be.


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