The Jericho Road
By W. Bion Adkins
Public Domain Books
Friendship, Love and Truth.
THE HIGHER LIFE
Manhood, fully developed and symmetrically formed, through the various stages of the world’s history, has been the great conservative element of society, and has been in high request. Some ages, however, have seemed to make a larger demand for this element than others, and this age of ours is one which yields to none of its predecessors in its call for manliness of character–for men of the right stamp. The perils of the times are imminent, and the demand for a high grade of intelligence and great strength of moral principle never was stronger. New developments of human genius and activity, are constantly arising, and new dangers to the dearest interests of society are calling for vigilance. This is neither a stagnant nor a tame and quiet age. It is an age of activity, of enterprise, of speculation, of adventure, of philosophizing and of both real and pseudo reforms. The age eminently demands vigorous and mature manhood. Therefore, study, think, investigate, learn. Remember, however, that it is not knowledge stored up as intellectual fat which is of value, but that which is turned into intellectual muscle. Out of dull and selfish seclusion go forth. Regulate with care your basal endowments. Prove thy strength, and render it sure. Deliver thy conceptions from narrowness, thy charity from scrimpness, thy purposes from smallness. Deny thyself and take up thy cross. Do and dare, love and suffer. So shalt thou build a character that will abide all the tests which future years or ages may bring.
Bear constantly in mind that you are endlessly improvable. “It is for God and for Omnipotency to do mighty things in a moment; but degreeingly to grow to greatness is the course that He hath left for man.” To the conscious human self there belong possibilities of such moment that no one can well study them without being either thrillingly impressed or made to experience unusual emotions. The conclusion is, therefore, unavoidable, that every soul can become great. By processes of culture to which it is able to subject itself, it can perpetually increase in wisdom, in strength, and in nobleness.
The soul’s chief capabilities may, for the sake of elucidation, be represented as so many different rooms within itself, each of which can be made to have a spaciousness equaled by no material amplitude ever yet ascertained, and each of which, so long as it is kept in the process of growth, is and will be susceptible of fresh furnishing. These apartments of the minor man are too wonderful to admit being depicted either by a writer’s pen or by a painter’s brush. Their most distinguishing characteristics can, at best, only be indicated. Who can tell how much knowledge can find place in them, or what volumes of feeling they can contain? Who can declare the magnitude of the grandest traits that, in them, can have freedom to thrive and bear fruit? Who can estimate the length and breadth, the height and depth of the loftiest inspirations or the noblest joys that, in them, can be experienced? To give a full expression to the utmost intelligence, potency, amiability, purity, meritoriousness and majesty that can reside in the capability–rooms of a human soul–would be equivalent to picturing the imaginable or to portraying the infinite, and to do either the one or the other is impossible. One may be sadly indifferent to the value of his soul’s foremost capabilities, may inadequately exercise them, and may secure to them merely a dwarf-like compass; but there is never a time when they can not be made to transcend the limits of development to which they have attained. Their possessor can educate them forever. He can unceasingly add to their roominess and resource. In all time to come he can cause them to continue to exceed breadth after breadth. Oh, who can conceive how great his mental being is able to become? Who can comprehend how elevated a life it is possible for him to live? Who can be liable to overrate the vastness of the destiny for which he was created?
In the language of Hughes, “Our case is like that of a traveler on the Alps, who should fancy that the top of the next hill must end his journey because it terminates his prospect, but he no sooner arrives at it, than he sees new ground and other hills beyond it, and continues to travel on as before.” The thought of the soul’s improvability is well adapted to quicken torpid virtue and to revive drooping aspirations. It tends to scatter the gloom resulting from disappointed endeavors. Let it but have a star-like clearness in the mind, and there will spring from it an ever-new interest in life and being.
We know that the paths of usefulness and affection must sometimes be strewn with smitten leaves and faded bloom, and that the heart must sometimes be chilled by harsh changes, even as the face of nature is chilled by rude winds. We know that we are doomed to find thorns in roses, and to suffer from “thorns in the flesh.” We know that there are for us hours when the sunshine without must be darkened by shadows within; when we must be pierced by trials; when we must be humbled by afflictions. Yet, so we but duly know our mental possibilities, how much there is to animate us and to make us hopeful. Well may we go our way, with a high ambition and with good cheer. Well may we prize, as a stage of action, this old stone-ribbed earth, whereon we can behold the beauty of emerald meadows and of blossoming plants, and can hear the songs of russet-bosomed robins and the prattle of children, the voice of the vernal breeze, and the sound of the summer rain. Oh, who that ever muses on the soul’s heirship to the divine, can wish he had never been born? I am grateful for my existence. I rejoice that I have place amid the bright-robed mysteries which surround me. I glory in the shifting scenery of the seasons. No flaw do I find in the sun, the moon, or the stars. No prayer have I to make that the grass which grows at my feet may be fairer than it is, or that the mornings and evenings may be more attractive. Let me know as I may, and feel as I should, the truth that I am endlessly improvable, and I am assured that the soul of the universe will somehow sweeten every bitter allotment that falls to me, will “charm my pained steps over the burning marl" which belongs to the course of probationary experience, and will assist me joyfully to approximate the greatness of His own infinite and tranquil character. It is bliss to feel that the soul is an ever-enduring entity. Unlike the clouds and the snow-heaps, the fluids and the liquids, the rocks and the metals–unlike all the generations of living organisms–it neither wastes away nor loses its distinctiveness. Nay, it outlasts every transmuting process, and, as a self-identifying self, is endlessly living.
If we reach the high plane of a perfect manhood, we must climb. “Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter."–Rev., iv, 1. In this mystical Revelation we behold the seer, John, dreaming at the base of the celestial hill, and in his dream he hears a voice commanding him to rise to the summit of the eternities, where, standing, he shall behold all things that must be. This vision has an infinite significance, in that no small part of the felicity associated with the| idea of eternity is the thought that, with ample mind, we shall perfectly understand the mighty plan and enterprise of God, and know with perfect knowledge that which is dark and obscure now. But not only has this truth to us an infinite significance; it has also a temporal one, in that it tells us that there is an immediate relationship between elevation of life, between high thinking, living and doing, and the power to command the future. “Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.” That is, let us stand high and we see far and wide, let us stand high and we see deep. Elevation grants perspective and yields the possession of those years not only that are, but that are not. Now, so understood, these words have much inspiration, comfort and solace for all of us, for a very large part of man’s life is future. Indeed, the great regulative force of every human spirit is not so much the present and the past–present opportunity and past experience–as future ideality. The architectonic principle of life is not the momentum that sweeps down to us from the years that have been, but the ideal that lies deep in the years that are yet to be. This is the mysterious, occult power that moulds, forms and fashions our stature, and that is determining the greatness or the littleness of our destiny. And not only is the future architectonic, it is also an inspiration and refuge for our anxieties, defeats and inadequacy, his incompetency, how little he has achieved, realizes his inconsequence and insignificance, and he looks forward and sees triumph in tomorrow; he beholds the summit of the hill, and says, “There I shall stand victorious some future day.” Today incomplete, tomorrow complete; today imperfect, tomorrow perfect; today bound, tomorrow emancipated; today humiliated, tomorrow crowned. Hence, the future is man’s refuge, hope and strength. And in a yet more profound sense does the future exert a wonderful power over our lives, in that it holds for us the inheritance undefiled and incorruptible, the patrimony of eternity. And who can measure the influence of this belief over human character? Blot it out, and what inspiration have we to struggle on? If we are to perish as the beast of the field, wither like the grass, and vanish like the transient cloud, man has no grand, sublime impulsion in this life. But let him believe that he is the child of God, that there is an immortal soul, not only in him, but an eternal sphere awaiting him–let him believe that here he is but in the bud, that these seventy years are but the seed time, and that infinite eons lie before him for fruition and efflorescence, and you magnify his spirit, enlarge his hope, and inspire him with a zeal to conquer and achieve.
But now there is a popular philosophy that tells us that man can only know two points of time: that point of time through which he has gone–the past, and that point of time in which he is now living–the present. He may know experience and he may grasp opportunity, but he can know nothing of futurity. The future is a riddle, an unexplored continent, a terra incognita into which no human eyes have ever pried or ever may pry, sealed as it is by the counsel of God against the curious vision of His children. And to some extent I think we all must admit that this popular notion holds true. There are those to whom the future must be a blank, who peer into it and behold nothing there.
I have noticed that no great poem, no great religion, no great creation of any kind, was ever written or conceived by people who lived in the valleys, cramped by the hills. The hills narrow one’s horizon, make one insular, provincial, limited. And what is true of literature and art is true also of life. The man of low ideals never vaticinates; the man who is living down in the lower ranges of existence never prophesies. The man with a low brow has always a limited perspective; so, also, the man with a low heart or a low conscience. The sordid man can never measure the consequences of his wealth. He may know that tomorrow he will be as rich as he is today, or richer, but he can not prognosticate what his riches will mean to him tomorrow–whether he will find in them more or less felicity, whether they will be a blessing or a burden. Neither has the base man, the immoral man, any clear vision of futurity. He lives in doubts and fears, and is begirt with clouds and confusion. He half fears that there is a law of God, and half doubts it; half believes in retribution, and half doubts it; half believes in moral cause and effect, and half doubts it. He sees, with no certain sight, the inevitable penalty awaiting his wrong-doing, else he would not and dare not sin. No man would sin, could he read the future; no man would defy the Infinite, did he unerringly know that God is a just God, and that He shall visit inevitable retribution upon him who trangresses His holy law. The wicked man, like the sordid man living in the low lands, never vaticinates, and can not, not by reason of any want of talent or conscience, but by reason of want of altitude of vision. But St. John does not tell us here that all men shall know all things that must be; that all men have a sense of futurity. What he does say is that there is an intimate and indissoluble relationship between elevation and futurity; that only the man who stands upon the altitudes can command the future; for only there, when he is at his best, and when he is living on the summit of his soul, does he behold the true and perfect action of the forces and the laws of the Eternal. It is not “Stay down there and I will show thee things which must be hereafter,” but “Come up hither"–live, aspire, ascend into the altitudes of mind; ascend into the altitudes of feeling; ascend into the altitudes of conscience; live where God means you to live, and then–"I will show thee things which must be hereafter.”
And now, if you will consult your own experience or meditate on history, if you will scan the great things thought and the great things done, and the great things wrought and the great things won by man, you will see that they have been always wrought and won and done and thought upon the heights. The Muses live upon Parnassus, the Deities upon Olympus. Jehovah has his abiding place on Zion. David says, “I look unto the hills, whence cometh my help.” Not unto the meadows, or the streams, or by the forests, or the cities, or the seas, but “unto the hills, whence cometh my help.” He looks high, and his high vision grants him spiritual perspective. And Jesus speaks his great sermon, not by the Jordan, but on the mount. He is transfigured on a mount, crucified on a mount, and ascends to the right hand of His Father from a mount. Everywhere the heights play a great part in the history of human thought, feeling and faith. All great truth comes down; it does not rise up. All great religion comes down; it does not rise up. It is not the wilderness, nor the low lands, nor the level places, but Mount Carmel, Mount Horeb, Mount Zion, the Mount of the Beatitudes and the Mount of Transfiguration that are focal points of righteousness and faith. And when you look at and reflect upon men–the great men, the men who have moulded the world, who have made the massive contributions to humanity, who have dealt the Titan strokes that have redeemed the race from its servitudes and bestialities, who, like Atlas, have upheld and lifted up the world; who, like Prometheus, have brought to man precious gifts from Zeus, and so delivered him from the tyranny and dominion of his ignorance, superstitions, fears and passions–you will always find that they are men who have lived upon the lofty summits of the Spirit, and therefore have been seers of the future and have seen “those things which must be hereafter.”
Every high-minded man has always lived in the future. Take the sovereign prophet of the ancient faith. The world about him is dark and desolate; Israel’s powers are at the ebb; the great faith that she has inherited is degraded, sensualized, formalized, buried under a debris of priestcraft, infidelity, idolatry and corruption; and yet this prophet stands upon the hills and dreams–dreams against the present, dreams through all the darkness environing him–and sees the day when the faith of Israel shall be the faith of the world; when the law of Israel shall dominate the conscience of the world; when the Savior of Israel shall be the Savior of the world, and when the Jehovah of Israel shall be the Jehovah of the world. Standing high, his soul soaring, thinking lofty thoughts, he beholds Israel in glorious perspective as the nation that shall lead man from bondage to liberty, from darkness to light. Or think again of the life, the history, the hope of Jesus, and behold in Him a perfect illustration of this truth; this truth that there is an intimate relationship between high living and high thinking, high doing, high willing and the vision of the future. What right had Christ to hope at all? What right had He to think of a Kingdom of God that was going steadily to conquer and take possession of this earth? What right had He to think that His Gospel would come to be the regnant gospel over the minds of men? What right had He to think that His own beautiful spirit would prevail over the perverse and rebellious will of society? What right had he to think that the world would ever come to accept His marvelous beatitudes as truth? What right had He to believe that the cross would ever be a universal symbol of salvation? Judged from the near point of view, by immediate results, by the facts that were right before His eyes, history records no more conspicuous and terrible failure than the life of Jesus. A Savior, and yet disbelieved in by the people; a Savior, and yet scorned by the multitude; a Savior, and yet called a “wine bibber” and a “glutton;” a Savior, and yet humiliated and degraded; a Savior, and yet dying ignominiously upon the cross. Where is there any ample redemption, any glorious assertion of the mind, in these sad, gloomy, hopeless facts? And yet He said, “I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me.” How did He dare make such a prophecy as that? How did He dare arrogate to himself such a dominion as that? Why, simply because, living in the altitudes, he had vision of things that must be. He knew that He had righteousness in His heart, and that righteousness must at last be established. He knew that His spirit was a spirit of peace and good will towards men, and that peace and good will towards men must ultimately prevail. He lived on the heights, and He saw those things that were to be. And now, what is true of these great men may be true of every one of us, according to the loftiness of our living. Every one of us may command the future–may, in a measure, prophesy and weigh the consequences, and calculate the issues of our own life; and every one of us can live a far larger, fuller and richer life, in the years that are to be than we can live in the past or in the time that is now.
And first, let me say to you that the man that lives upon the altitudes of his spirit beholds with sure vision the issuance of his life in triumph. We speak of life habitually as being a complicated and intricate thing, and no doubt it is, upon its lower ranges. A man is prosperous today, sweeping, with sails full set, before the breeze, his bark leaping gladly, mounting buoyantly upon the waves; but no man can tell what the morrow will bring forth to him. Prosperity is not a matter of certitude, security or permanency. An ill wind comes, and the vessel is swept to disaster; on the shoals or rocks, rushing to destruction against some Scylla or swallowed up by some Charybdis. And what is true of prosperity is true of power. Today a man is the idol of the people, flattered, honored, extolled and crowned by them. They gather round him and intoxicate him with their plaudits. He is the man of the people, the great man of his day, but who can tell how long this will rule enthroned? An unfortunate speech, an error of conduct, a moment of indecision, a failure to appeal to the demagogic instincts of the race, and he is ruthlessly bereaved of his honor and his glory gone. The idols of yesterday are the broken statues of today; the heroes of yesterday are the “have-beens” of today. So capricious, so ephemeral, so mutable, so mercurial, so impermanent are the whims of humanity, and so unstable its idolatries and adorations.
And as the mighty fall, so the obscure rises. Names that were unknown ten years ago are blazoned almost on the skies. The insignificant come up and take the scepter in their hand. The poor man of a little while ago is the rich merchant or the successful lawyer of today. This is his hour, this the moment of his power. Strange, is it not? There seems to be no method, no system in those lower planes of life. The rich become poor and the poor rich, the strong weak and the weak strong; the ruler becomes the ruled and the ruled the ruler; the master becomes the servant and the servant the master. No order, no system, no method anywhere in mundane things, and therefore no power of vision and vaticination.
But now in the higher things there is none of this impermanence and instability. Everything is in order here. When man is living in the fulness of his nature, when he is living on the heaven-kissing pinnacles of his spirit, when his whole being is harmonious with the great and glorious laws of God, his future is assured; it is bound to be a great and beautiful success. No possibility of failure upon the heights; every possibility of failure upon the level; every possibility of disaster down there, but upon the peaks there can be no disaster, no mistake, no accident, no dethronement; there must be inevitable and unconditional achievement. Of course, I do not mean popular achievement–achievement as men usually count achievement, or success as men ordinarily rate success. So measured, every great man’s life has been a dismal failure. Paul’s life was not a popular success, nor was Isaiah’s, nor was Augustine’s, nor was Savanarola’s, nor was Socrates’, nor was Christ’s life a popular success. Measured by terrestrial standards, measured by the low ideals of humanity, these lives were all ignominious failures, every one of them; but measured by the Divine standard, by the mind and will of God, they are triumphant victories.
And now I say that every man whose point of view is high, who is standing upon the very highest reaches of his own being, seeking sincerely to be true to all that is heroic and great in his heaven-endowed nature, that man is bound to be, by the decree of the Eternal, an ultimately successful man. He is bound, just so surely as God’s sun is bound to come tomorrow, he is bound to be crowned, not only with a celestial but with a terrestrial success–success as God measures success. He may feel pain; he may feel the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; he may experience neglect; he may contend against a host of untoward circumstances; he may groan under the pressure and weight of many woes; he may weep bitter, burning, scalding tears of sorrow and grief, but still he must triumph, for God is just and will crown with a perfect equity His faithful children.
And so, my friends, the central truth that I deliver to you is this, that life, life upon the summit of the soul, is the supreme, resplendent luminary. Not argument, not philosophy, not the elaborate, logical processes of the intellect, not the Bible, not the church, but life; this is the great infallible interpreter. Live and ye shall see. “Do my will,” says Christ, “and ye shall know.” Stand high and firm on the summit of your soul and ye shall see the things that must be hereafter–a victorious righteousness, a triumphant life, and the redeemed hosts swathed and folded in the light of Him who is everlasting, omnipotent and all-loving.