"The Greatest Thing Ever Known"
by Ralph Waldo Trine
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THE GREATEST THING EVER KNOWN
The greatest thing ever known—What is it? Full surely the answer must be one that is absolutely universal, both in its nature and in the possibilities of its application. It must be one that can be accepted wholly and unreservedly, not only by a single individual, but by bodies of individuals, be they the originators of any particular school of Ethics, the followers of any particular system of Philosophy, or even the adherents of any great system of Religion. It must be one so true in itself that it can be accepted by all men alike the world over. And again, it must be an answer that is true for no particular period of time, but equally true for all time—an answer that was true not only for yesterday, that is true for today, that may be true for tomorrow, but one equally true for yesterday, today, and forever.
In laying our foundation, therefore, it must be laid upon something as true and as certain as Life itself, and as eternal as Everlasting Life. What is as true and as certain as Life itself?—Life, only Life. And what do we mean by this answer? Let us give it for a moment our most careful consideration for upon what we find here depends and rests all that is to follow.
Let us start, then, with that in regard to which all can agree; something taken not from mere tradition, from mere hearsay, but something that comes to us from no source other than our own interior consciousness, our own reason and insight. In other words, let us make our approach, not from the theological standpoint, but from that which is far more certain and satisfactory—the philosophical. Then, and then only, will we allow pure reason to be our guide, and then by having as the earnest desire of both mind and heart, truth, truth for its own sake, and then for the sake of its influence upon everyday life, we will thus allow pure reason to be illumined by the “Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
In the degree that we open ourselves to and are true to this are we on sure and safe ground, for thus are we going directly to the source and the only source of all true revelation. In the degree, on the other hand, that we close ourselves or become untrue to this are we on uncertain and dangerous ground, and liable to find ourselves hopelessly floundering in the quagmire of theological traditions and speculations and doubts, of which the world has already seen so much. Pure reason, therefore, shall be our guide—pure reason illumined by the Inner Light.
DIVINE ENERGIES IN EVERYDAY LIFE
NOW what, let us ask, is the result and hence the value of this realisation? For unless it is of value in the affairs of everyday life, it is then a mere dead theory, and consequently of no real value. Use must be the final test of everything, and if it has no actual use, or if no visible results follow its use, we had better not spend time with it, for it is then not founded upon Truth.
First, let it be said, it is not the mere intellectual recognition, merely the dead theory, but the conscious vital and living realisation of this great truth, that makes it of value, and that makes it show forth in the affairs of everyday life. This it is, and this alone, that gives true blessedness, for this is none other than the finding of the kingdom of God, and when this is once found and lived in, all other things literally and necessarily follow. Through this the qualities and powers of the Divine Life are more and more realised and actualised, and through their leading we are led into the possession of all other things.
Those who come into this full and living realisation of oneness with the Divine Life are brought at once into right relations with themselves, with their fellow-man, and with the laws of the universe about them. They live now in the inner, the real life, and whatever is in the interior must necessarily take form in the exterior, for all life is from within out. There is no true life in regard to which this law does not hold. And if the will of God is done in the inward life, then is it necessarily done in all things of the outward life, and the results are always manifest. Thus and thus alone it is that individuals have become prophets, seers, and saviours; they have become what the world calls the “elect” of God, because in their own lives they first elected God and lived their lives in His life. And thus it is that today people can become prophets, seers, and saviours, for the laws of the Divine Life and the relations of what we term the human life to it are identically the same today as they have been in all time past and will be in all time to come.
The Divine Being changes not; it is man alone who changes. It is solely by virtue of man's leaving the inner life of the Spirit and thus departing from God, or by virtue of his not yet finding this real life, that sin and error, pain and disease, fears and forebodings, have crept as naturally and as necessarily as that effect follows cause into his life; only by closing his eyes to the inner light, by shutting his ears to the inner voice, that, although he has eyes to see, yet he sees not, and, although he has ears to hear, yet he hears not. It is only by uniting one’s life with the Divine Life, and thus living again the life of the Spirit, that these things will go, even as they have come.
evil, unhappiness, misery, and want in the world are attributable to
man, and are the direct results of his taking his life, either
consciously or unconsciously, either directly or indirectly, out of
harmony with the Power that works for righteousness and consequently
for wholeness and perfection. And when our life is lived in the life of
God, and God's will therefore becomes our will, all is and necessarily
must be well with us, for contrary to His will it is impossible that
anything should ever come to pass. And thus it is that he who seeks
first the kingdom of God and His righteousness shall have all other
things added unto him.
THE MASTER'S GREAT BUT LOST GIFT
The conclusions we have arrived at thus far we have arrived at independently of any authority outside of our own reason and insight. It is always of interest as well as of greater or less value to compare our own conclusions with those of others whose opinions we value. It would indeed be a matter of exceeding great interest to compare those we have reached with those of a number whose opinions come with greater or less authority to all the world. Space does not permit this, however, and I propose that we give the balance of our time to the consideration, though necessarily brief consideration, of two such; one universally regarded as one of the most highly illumined teachers, if not the most highly illumined, the world has ever known, the Christ Jesus; the other universally regarded as one of the most highly illumined philosophers the world has ever known, the philosopher Fichte. In these two we have the advantage of the life and teachings of one who lived and taught nearly nineteen hundred years ago, and one who lived and taught a trifle less than a hundred years ago. By selecting these, let it also be said, we have the advantage of two whose lives fully manifested the truth of that which they taught.
In considering the life and teachings of Jesus, let us consider them not as dull expositors interpret and represent them, but as He Himself gave them to the world. Certainly Jesus was Divine; but He was Divine, as He himself clearly taught, in just the same sense that you and I and every human soul is essentially Divine. He differed from us, however, in that He had come into a far clearer and fuller realisation of His divinity than we have come into, as indeed His life so clearly indicates. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, as indeed every one must be who comes into the full realisation of their oneness with God, as Jesus Himself again so clearly taught.
In the thoroughly absurd, illogical, and positively demoralising doctrine of “vicarious atonement,” as given us by early ecclesiastical bodies by perverting the real teachings of Jesus even to the extent of calling interpolations in the New Testament to their aid, we certainly cannot believe. Many do, however, believe that it has done more harm to the real teachings of Jesus, has been more productive of scepticism and infidelity, than all other causes combined. It is a doctrine that can be formulated only by those who have no spiritual insight themselves, and who therefore drag the teachings of the Master down to a purely material interpretation because of their inability to give them the spiritual interpretation that He intended they should have.
If Christ’s mission was not that of vicarious atonement, not for the purpose of appeasing the wrath and indignation of an angry God and thus reconciling Him to His children, what then was it? Clearly His mission was that of a Redeemer as He gave Himself out to be a Redeemer to bring the children of men back to their Father. And how did He purpose to do this ? Clearly by having them consciously unite their lives with the Father's life, even as He had united his. The kingdom of God and His righteousness is not only what He came to teach, but what He clearly and unmistakably taught.
That He plainly and unequivocally taught His disciples that this was His mission is evidenced by numerous sentences such as the following, occurring all through the gospels: Matt. 4:23, “Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” etc. . .Luke 8:1, “He went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God”. . . Luke 4:43, “But he said unto them: I must preach the good tidings of the kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore was I sent.” . . . Luke 9:2, “And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”. . . Matt. 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony unto all nations,” etc. In more than thirty places in the first three gospels do we find Jesus thoroughly explaining to His disciples His especial mission—to preach the glad tidings of the coming of the kingdom of God; and even before He entered upon His public work, we hear John the Baptist going before Him and saying, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God, or, as He sometimes expressed it, the kingdom of Heaven? As an answer, and an answer better than any speculations in regard to it, let us again take His own words: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” He taught only what He Himself had found, the conscious union with the Father's life as the one and all-inclusive thing. With Jesus from the very first, only in union with God was there reality. And this found, the conscious union with the life in the Father's life seemed nothing at all marvellous to Him; it was perfectly natural, and, the only life He knew. Hence He could not say otherwise than that He and the Father were one.
His vision was so clear and His already realised Divine life was so full and complete, that He knew that it was utterly impossible for His life to be without the Father's life, as we indeed shall know when our vision becomes clear and we enter into the same fully realised union with it. This great knowledge came to Jesus not through intellectual speculation and still less through any communication from without; it came to Him through His own interior consciousness; to all appearances He was born with it. He was born with a peculiar aptitude for discerning things of the Spirit, the same as among us some are born with a peculiar aptitude for one thing and others for other things. But so great was this power naturally in Jesus that in it we may justly say He had a great advantage over most people born into the world, and for this reason was He all the more able and all the greater reason was there for Him to be one of the great world Teachers and hence Redeemers.
indeed Immanuel—God with us. Jesus, I repeat, never speaks of His life
in any other connection than as one with the Father's life. In reply to
a question from Thomas in the fourteenth chapter of John, He says, “If
ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also: from henceforth ye
know Him and have seen Him not.” Philip, who was standing near, unable
to comprehend the interior meaning of the Master's words, said unto
Him: “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Jesus, somewhat
surprised that He had not made Himself clear to them, replied, “Have I
been so long time with you, and dust thou not know me, Philip? He that
hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father?
Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The
words I speak unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding
in me doeth His work. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father
in me: or believe me for the very works' sake.”
THE PHILOSOPHER’S RIPEST LIFE THOUGHT
Let us now see how the truths we have already set forth stand in reference to the thought of the philosopher Fichte. Truth, the highest truth, and truth for its own sake, was the one supreme object of his life. And in order to discern this clearly himself, that he in turn might point it out clearly to others, he stood erect and alone, free from connection with any institution, organisation, or system of thought that would distort or limit his vision and induce him either intentionally or unintentionally to interpret truth by bending it to suit the tenets of the system of thought or the institution to which he might be, even though inadvertently, bound.
It was of Fichte that an eminent English scholar once said: “Far above the dark vortex of theological strife in which punier intellects chafe and vex themselves in vain, Fichte struggles forward in the sunshine of pure thought which sectarianism cannot see, because its weakened vision is already filled with a borrowed and imperfect light.”
It is, moreover, always of value to know how the truth that one finds and endeavours to give to others finds embodiment in his own life, for this is the sure and unfailing test of its vitality, if not indeed of its reality. A word or two, therefore, in reference to the life of Fichte may not be inappropriate here, a word or two from the same eminent English scholar quoted above, the translator of his works from the German to the English, for he knew well his life the same as he knew also his philosophy. “We prize his philosophy deeply,” says he; “it is to us an invaluable possession, for it seems the noblest exposition to which we have yet listened of human nature and divine truth; but with reverent thankfulness we acknowledge a still higher debt, for he has left behind him the best gift which man can bequeath to man—a brave, heroic human life.” “In the strong reality of his life,—in his intense love for all things beautiful and true,—in his incorruptible integrity and heroic devotion to the right, we see a living manifestation of his principles. His life is the true counterpart of his philosophy—it is that of a strong, free, incorruptible man.”
And now to a few paragraphs of Fichte's thought bearing more or less directly upon the theme immediately in hand. After setting forth in a very comprehensive manner the truth in regard to Being, which he identifies with Life much in the same general manner as we have already endeavoured to set it forth, and then after making it clear that by God he means this Infinite Being, this Spirit of Infinite Life, he says: “God alone is, and nothing besides him,—a principle which, it seems to me, may be easily comprehended, and which is the indispensable condition of all religious insight.” “But beyond this mere empty and imaginary conception, and as we have carefully set forth this matter above, God enters into us in His actual, true, and immediate life,—or, to express it more strictly, we ourselves are this His immediate Life. But we are not conscious of this immediate Divine Life; and since, as we have also already seen, our own Existence—that which properly belongs to us—is that only which we can embrace in consciousness, so our Being in God, notwithstanding that at bottom it is indeed ours, remains nevertheless forever foreign to us, and thus, in deed and truth, to ourselves is not our Being; we are in no respect the better of this insight, and remain as far removed as ever from God.”
“We know nothing of this immediate Divine Life, I said; for even at the first touch of consciousness it is changed into a dead World. . . . The form forever veils the substance from us; our vision itself conceals its object; our eye stands in its own light. I say unto thee who thus complainest: ‘Raise thyself to the standing-point of Religion, and all these veils are drawn aside; the World, with its dead principle, disappears from before thee, and the Godhead once more resumes its place within thee, in its first and original form, as Life,—as thine own Life, which thou oughtest to live and shalt live.’ ”
In setting forth how universally Divine Being incarnates itself in human Life, he says: “From the first standing-point the Eternal Word becomes flesh, assumes personal, sensible, and human existence, without obstruction or reserve, in all times, and in every individual man who has a living insight into his unity with God, and who actually and in truth gives up his personal life to the Divine Life within him,—precisely in the same way as it became incarnate in Jesus Christ.”
then, of the great fundamental fact of the Truth that Jesus Himself
perceived and gave to the world, and also of the manner whereby He came
into the perception of it, he says: “Jesus of Nazareth undoubtedly
possessed the highest perception containing the foundation of all other
truth, of the absolute identity of Humanity with the Godhead, as
regards what is essentially real in the former.” “His
self-consciousness was at once the pure and absolute Truth of Reason
itself, self-existent and independent, the simple fact of
consciousness.” Then in showing that Jesus as He is presented to us by
the apostle John never conceived of His life in any other light than as
one with the Father's Life, he says: “But it is precisely the most
prominent and striking trait in the character of the Johannean Jesus,
ever recurring in the same shape, that He will know nothing of such a
separation of His personality from His Father, and that He earnestly
rebukes others who attempt to make such a distinction; while He
constantly assumes that he who sees Him sees the Father, that he who
hears Him hears the Father, and that He and the Father are wholly one;
and He unconditionally denies and rejects the notion of an independent
being in Himself, such an unbecoming elevation of Himself having been
made an objection against Him by misunderstanding. To Him Jesus was not
God, for to Him there was no independent Jesus whatever; but God was
Jesus, and manifested Himself as Jesus.”
SUSTAINED IN PEACE AND SAFETY FOREVER
At what now have we arrived, and what has been the process? From our own reason and insight, independently of all outside authority, we have found the great truth that a living insight into the fact of the essential unity of the human life with the Divine Life is the profoundest knowledge that man can attain to. This as a mere intellectual perception, however, as a mere dead theory, amounts to but little, if indeed to anything at all, so far as bearing fruit in everyday life is concerned. It is the vital, living realisation of this great transcendent truth in the life of each one that makes it a mighty moving and moulding force in their life.
Then we have also found that this same great Truth was the great central fact of both the life and the teachings of one who comes as authority to practically all the world, the Christ Jesus. That this was the one great Truth in which He continually lived, that it was the secret of His unusual insight and power, and that it was also the great Truth that He came to bring to the world, He distinctly tells us. That it was not only what He proclaimed He came to teach, but also what He distinctly taught, we have likewise found.
We have found also that the ripest life thought of the philosopher Fichte—he whose spiritual vision was so fully unfolded as to enable him to give to the world such a remarkable blending of the intellectual and the spiritual in his philosophy—was almost if not identically the same in reference to this great Truth, as was also his thought in regard to the life and the power as well as the mission of Jesus. And when I see day after day the wonderful results that follow in the lives of those who have entered into this living realisation, then I know that Jesus knew whereof He spoke when He gave the injunction, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Moreover I do not believe, but I know, that whoever through this realisation thus finds the kingdom of' God will find His words—that all else will follow—literally and absolutely as well its necessarily true.All will follow in a perfectly natural and normal manner, in full accordance with natural spiritual law.
He who goes thus directly to the mountain top will find all things spread out before him in the valley below. He who thus becomes centred in the Infinite will find that to the same centre whence his inner life issues, all things pertaining to his outer material life will in turn be drawn.
The beauty of holiness is one with the beauty of wholeness. To know but the One Life is to live in the fact and the beauty of wholeness; and where wholeness is, there no lack of anything will be found. Also, if what we ordinarily term our Christian churches, and if the preachers who stand in their pulpits would fully and universally give themselves to the real message that Jesus gave to the world, then we would find that “the common people” would go to and would hear them gladly; there would then be no hard pressing social situation to face, for the people would then have a living knowledge of the one great Truth through which all other things would come.
This great transcendent Truth, however, that was the very essence of the life and the teachings of Jesus, has been even in our churches as good as rooted out and lost. And shall we conclude that because it is practically lost, the greater part of the time and attention of the preacher in the large majority of them is given to the empty, barren, inconsequential themes it is given to? Or is it because so much time and attention is given to the latter that there is no time left for the former? However this may be, it certainly is true that to a greater or less extent today we find identically the same conditions that Jesus found, and that He continually tried so hard to do away with. “Full well,” said He, “ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
comes from our theological schools so steeped in theological
speculations and in denominational dogmas that he hasn't the slightest
conception of what the real mission of Jesus was. What wonder, then,
that the church to which he goes soon becomes a dead shell from which
the life has gone, into which those in love with life will no longer
enter, a church whose chief concern very soon is, how to raise the
minister's salary? But once let these minor and inconsequential, not to
say at times petty, foolish, and absurd, things be dropped, and let all
time and attention be given to the great central Truth that Jesus
brought to he world, and we shall find that during the next one hundred
years, or maybe during the next fifty years, what will then be real
Christianity will make more progress than what is now termed
Christianity has made during all the nineteen hundred years it has been
in the world.
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