William Rounseville Alger.

The solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life online

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Online LibraryWilliam Rounseville AlgerThe solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life → online text (page 33 of 35)
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to make the inner consciousness all, the outer facts noth-
ing. He removed his tribunal from the outer court of
words and acts, where the rabbinical priests held theirs,
and established it in the inner sanctuary of thoughts and
affections. His appalling sentences are, " Whoever look-
eth on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed
alultery with her in his heart " ; " He that hateth his


brother is a murderer." It is true the latter text is not
from his lips ; but it belongs to his favorite disciple, and is
conceived perfectly in his spirit. If a man ask anything
of God, without doubting, he shall receive whatever he
asks. If, with absolute belief, he say to a mountain, Be
thou removed into yonder sea ! it shall be done. This is
true in the ideal sphere, not in the material. A supreme
faith is omnipotent in its own realm, the world of con
sciousness. Whatever a man asks or orders, in entire
faith, with no opposing doubt, is subjectively granted.
It becomes real in his inner life, though not to the eyes
of others. If the unqualified language of Jesus be cor-
rectly assigned to his lips, it is explicable only in this
way ; and it ranks him in the same order of mind with the
supreme masters of thought who have held the universe
in solution in an idea. His expansiveness of intellectual
sensibility seems competent to any greatness. When
blamed for busying himself on the Sabbath, he said, God
ceases not his beneficence on this day : why should I ?
" My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." What an
unimaginable height of life such a level of thought implies !
Is it not indeed the speech of a Son of God ? It was a
grand achievement to go into the depth of the sky, and
read the law of creation, the attraction of matter ac-
cording to the inverse square of the distance. It was a
grander achievement to go into the depth of the soul, and
read the law of salvation, the free and conscious re-
nunciation of self. " Whoever will save his life shall lose
it ; and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find
it." In other words, Whoever, by an ignoble compromise,
would escape any hardship, shall incur a greater evil than
he avoids : Whoever, for a sacred cause, would sacrifice
any personal interest, shall take up a greater good than
he lays down. It is unquestionably the wisdom of the
inspiration of God.

Jesus was made lonely, furthermore, by the peculiarities
of his mission. God had laid on him a special work of
infinite importance ; and it absorbed him, he felt strait-
ened until it was accomplished. His divine call, and his
perfect devotedness to it, set him beyond the pale of the fel-

JESUS. 389

lowshiping sympathies of the crowd, remote from their
interests and passions. It invested him with a sphere of
strangeness which produced curiosity in some, hatred in
others, awe in most, and a feeling of unlikeness and dis-
tance in nearly all. In fulfilling the Messianic office he
was called to be a Messiah surprisingly different from the
one his countrymen were expecting with such eager desire.
He was not anointed to gratify their revengeful pride
by overthrowing their enemies, and putting them at the
head of the world in the administration of a visible the-
ocracy ; but to teach them humility, and love, and faith,
and silently inaugurate an unseen kingdom of heaven by
preaching the gospel of the enlightenment of the poor, the
deliverance of the captive, the comforting of sorrow, the
healing of disease, the removal of the sins and miseries of
the world. The lowly circumstances of his origin, the
contradiction of the purely spiritual functions he exercised
to the pompous material functions of the anticipated
Messiah, the fatal opposition of his living teachings to
the system of dead traditions and rites in vogue, inevi-
tably engendered in the established teachers a deadly
feud against him. The persecuting hatred of all those
classes who monopolized the offices of honor and power
in the nation must have deepened his feeling of loneliness,
and emphasized it with a dark sense of danger and suffer-
ng. This steep alienation, this irreconcilable antagonism,
vas steadily aggravated, on the part of the Scribes and .
Pharisees, as Jesus became more known and influential,
and as the revolutionary character of his vital morality
and religion grew more clearly pronounced ; and on the
side of Jesus, as he saw more fully the rank hypocrisy
and tyranny of the Scribes and Pharisees, and the cruel
burdensomeness and barrenness of their ceremonial sys-
tem. He had come to set men free with the freedom
Df the living truth, to cleanse the augean bosom of the
vorld by turning through it a river of pure enthusiasm.
They were the opponents of his work. They had sub-
stituted in place of a renewing personal faith and love an
Dppressive and corrupting mass of formalities. They hid
the key of knowledge, neither going in nor letting others


in. He saw that before he could accomplish his mission
of establishing the genuine religion of the love of God
and man, the authority of these selfish and wicked fanatics
must be destroyed. The battle made his lot that of an
outcast. But he shrank not. Fired with holy indigna-
tion at the sight of the impious wrong and injury they
were doing by their monstrous inversion of the moral law
in their characters and of the religious law in their tra-
ditions, he flamed against them with the angelic wrath of
the Lamb. He exposed them as sophists, blind guides,
hypocrites, who would strain out a gnat and swallow a
camel, who blew a trumpet before giving alms, made
long prayers of ostentation, and would not stretch forth a
finger to relieve the distresses of humanity. In return,
with the malignity and terror of cowardice, they sought
his life.

The spiritual solitude of Jesus, resulting from his tran-
scendent personality, his inspired originality of genius,
and the absorbing speciality of his mission in an alien
world, acquired a culminating intensity from the series of
cruelties and indignities he endured. He knew all the
bleakness and hardship of a despised lot of poverty, and
toil, and homeless wandering. Many a time, footsore and
weary, he paused to refresh himself with a crust, and a
draught from the wayside well. Many a time the stars
looked between the branches of the olive-trees into his
eyes, and the night-damps fell on his head by the shores
of Gennesaret. And everything demeaning or odious
that could be connected with his history was caught up
by his envious neighbors or his public foes and flung
against him in sneers and taunts. " Is not this the car-
penter's son ? " " Can any good come out of Naza-
reth ? " His own kindred, unable to appreciate a soul so
much above their own, turned against him, saying, " He
is beside himself." His words were perverted, his actions
misrepresented, his aims misinterpreted. They stigma-
tized him as a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, because
he was no dark ascetic. They accused him of a degraded
preference for the society of publicans and sinners, be-
cause he divinely stooped in love to soothe the unhappy

JESUS. 391

and save the lost They called him a blasphemer, be-
cause he uttered the words breathed into his soul by the
Spirit of God. They accused him of immorality and
irreligion, because he had an incomparably finer percep-
tion of moral principles and deeper truth of devotion
than they.

The worst sting in the injustice which the highest ben-
efactors of the world have always suffered, is to have
those immeasurably beneath and behind them assume to
look down upon them and back upon them, with anger,
hate, and scorn, and to see the rewards which ought to
be theirs bestowed on persons utterly unworthy of them.
The purest lovers of men and worshippers of God, the
spiritual heroes who reject current dogmas and conven-
tional feelings from allegiance to higher and better ones,
are regarded as traitors to truth and violators of piety,
on account of the very superiority of their virtue. The
most royal souls of the race, who so truly love and honor
their fellow-men as to sacrifice everything selfish for their
good, who achieve wider ranges of knowledge and peace,
giving men light in place of darkness, love in place of
hate, trust in place of fear, who win stores of bread of
life for generations to come, are either feared as dan-
gerous innovators and persecuted as wicked heretics, or
neglected to die of want and heart-break, while merely tit-
ular kings, without one attribute of merit beyond the place
they accidentally occupy, selfish voluptuaries and tyrants,
are boundlessly honored and pampered by the people they
mislead, prey upon, and despise. This is the tragedy of
history ; and Jesus felt it in its darkest extremity. What
imagination can reproduce his feelings when he saw the
people choose Barabbas rather than him, ranking that
brutal wretch above him, and heard the hoarse yell break-
ing on his ears : " Crucify him ! crucify him ! " Next
he proved the lonely agony of treachery and desertion.
One of his immediate disciples betrayed him for a price,
and the rest fell away in the gathering gloom. He was left
alone with his enemies and the blind fury of the mob.
Then he sounded to its very bottom the deepest depth
of loneliness and woe, the tortures of mockery. All the


billows of injustice and ingratitude had gone over his soul.
And now the pitiless probe of sarcasm was to be applied.
Ah, how little it was dreamed, as the governor led him out,
bleeding from the degradation of the scourge, and said
to the multitude, "Behold the man !" how little it was
dreamed that the voice of that silent sufferer would thrill
the world forever, his face melt the heart of all posterity !
They platted a crown of thorns and put it on his head,
and they put a purple robe on him, and a reed for a
sceptre in his hand, and they tauntingly bowed the knee
before him, and mocked him, saying, " Hail, thou king
of the Jews ! " It was the crudest irony ever known on
earth, because the disparity was the vastest between what
he deserved and what he received. His merit was God-
like, his treatment fiendish. Him, who never spurned the
lowliest thing that wore the shape of man, but unweariedly
went about doing good, they nailed upon the cross. Him,
whose kingdom was the truth, whose royal function was
succoring the needy, they charged with traitorous usurpa-
tion, and put to death. Was there ever so tremendous a
jibe as the descent from his idea of a moral throne of
beneficence and love subduing all souls in universal good-
ness, to their estimate of him as desiring to wear the He-
brew crown and be joined with the vulgar despots of
history ? And he had to endure this.

Unmistakable indications of his sufferings from loneli-
ness, neglect, and abuse, are scattered through the narra-
tives of his life. It could not be otherwise. He must
have been as extraordinarily susceptible of pain from lack
of sympathy, from injustice and unkindness, as his inte-
rior softness, richness, and fire were extraordinary. His
want of the usual domestic ties, his frequent withdrawals
from the crowds who gathered to listen to him, his con-
stant habit of wandering by himself for meditation and
prayer in the grove, by the lake, and on the mountain,
the account of his solitary temptation in the desert,
throw light on this sad and interesting phase of his char-
acter. What a revelation of his yearning for affection is
made in his words to Simon, " Thou gavest me no kiss
when I came in," and in his deep satisfaction from the

JESUS. 393

love of the sinful woman who washed his feet with her
tears and wiped them with her hair ! The picture of him
with John, the beloved disciple, leaning on his bosom at
the feast, will never fade before the eyes of the world.
We catch glimpses of his hunger for sympathy, of the
sorrows of his wronged affectionateness, in many of his
utterances. " Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me ? "
" Could ye not watch with me one hour ? " " Will ye also
go away from me ? " " They hated me without a cause."
This last expression, with other kindred ones, enables
us to trace something of his reactions towards those who
repulsed his words and his person. There is a blending
of a grieved feeling of personal injury and an indignant
feeling of public injury in several of his speeches concern-
ing those who rejected his mission and persecuted him
because he aimed to supersede their traditions and cere-
"nonies by a living religion. He saw at once the malig-
nant style of character out of which their antipathy sprang,
and the pernicious corruption which subordinated right-
eousness, mercy, and faith to tythings of mint, anise, and
cummin, and he unsparingly condemned them in the
name of God. He did not refrain from invective and irony :
and in this some personal feeling always mingles. Satire
is curdled poetry. Satire is the very recoil of stung sensi-
bility. Is not something of this perceptible in such texts
as the following ? " It cannot be that a prophet perish
out of Jerusalem." " Many good works have I showed
you from my Father ; for which of these works do ye stone
me ? " "I am come in my Father's name, and ye reject
me ; if another come in his own name, ye will receive
him." " No prophet is accepted in his own country."
" When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch."
But how divinely the disinterested feeling rose over every
merely personal feeling is sublimely shown by his bearing
under the greatest moral outrage he ever suffered. They
said, u He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the Prince of
Devils." Then Jesus said, after a silencing dialectic refu-
tation of their statement, " Whosoever speaketh against
the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him ; but whosoever
speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven


him." There is one text, however, fit to be the motto of
all truly ai istocratic souls who writhe back from the sting-
ing wrong and scorn of a misappreciating world, a
proverb, which, if he be really the creator, or even the
quoter of it, more than any other utterance, betrays at
least a temporary soreness in his mind. " Cast not your
pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their
feet, and turn again and rend you." He who breathed
such divinity of tenderness, such inexhaustible magnanim-
ity of forbearing pity and love towards all men, ' who
would give the pearl of great price purchased with his own
blood to the lowest child of humanity, who in the agony
of death yearned over the broken malefactor by his side
with the promise of Paradise, what pain, what unutter-
able revulsions of feeling, he must have undergone before
he could have said that!

But if Jesus had sharp temptations to misanthropic
pride and despair, his helps for neutralizing them, and
overcoming the world, were also great. They proved
sufficient to make him the most glorious victor among
all who have ever fought the bitter battle of life ; inspir-
ing model, great Captain of Salvation, to all subsequent
fighters of the good fight. He kept himself constantly
employed in fulfilling his mission, relieving the mental
distresses and bodily infirmities he encountered, sowing
broadcast the seeds of his kingdom. And no sweet spirit
thus busied in disinterested works of philanthropy and
religion ever curdles. When overtried by the multitude,
he found solacing restoration in the beautiful retreats of
nature, in communion with God, by the brook Cedron, in
^ic vale of Siloam, and other dear haunts of his feet.
" And in the morning, rising up a great while before day,
he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there
prayed." He likewise knew the sweets of friendship : for,
besides those " who followed after him for the loaves and
fishes," there were some who devotedly loved him for his
own sake. There was a humble home in Bethany, where,
with Lazarus and the two sisters, he who was homeless
often delayed. If of the ten lepers whom he cleansed he
was forced to ask, Where are the nine ? one gratefully re-

JESUS. 395

turned and clove to him. He had, too, the unfaltering
approval and support of his own conscience, a clear, ener-
getic assurance from the inspiring spirit of God within
him. When all were scattered, and he was left alone, he
could firmly say, " And yet I am not alone, for the Father
is with me."

He was sustained and animated by two ideas, of the
sublimest import and of unprecedented novelty in his
time. First, the idea of one God who is an Omnipresent
Spirit, the Universal Father, who is to be worshipped by
loyal openness to truth, purity of heart, righteousness and
beneficence ; who sees in secret and appropriately re-
wards every hidden act. Secondly, the idea of Humanity
as one great unit or family of brothers covering the earth,
to be saved and brought into co-operating affection and
blessedness by one law of love. He was the Son of Man,
the child of collective Humanity, as well as the Son of
God, the earliest in history to bear those conjoined titles.
" Whosoever doeth the will of my Father in heaven, the
same is my brother and my sister and my mother." The
law of unclefiled morality and religion, the universal will of
God, is the fine consanguinity which constitutes the
Brotherhood of Man. It is the ineffaceable glory of
Jesus to be the first in history to affix the full significance
of the name Father to the unity of the unknown God-
head, and to derive the legitimate consequences. Whether
or not science shall ever supersede this conception with
another, it was a step of progress, of immense historic and
moral importance, which was inevitable, sooner or later ;
and the name of Jesus is identified with it. The Greeks
and Romans had spoken of father Zeus, omnipotent father
Jove, parent of gods and men ; but it was a pale philo-
sophic glimmer, an ineffectual poetic image. So the in-
frequent theoretic perception of the unity of Humanity
played as a cold light in the head of antique philosophy,
with no power to overcome the jealousies and hate*, of
families, classes, tribes and nations But Jesus, by his
exemplification of the doctrine of the Fatherhood uf God,
gave that feeling of the Family, so common and so pow-
erful in antiquity, that intense sentiment of one bloo 1


from one parentage, with its affiliating obligations, new
life and expansive energy, and turned it through the
world in a warm and voluminous flood of humanity. It
was a practical discovery in morals as important as the
invention in mechanics of reverse motion by the cross-

He comforted himself with the sympathetic idea and
forefeeling of fame, honorable and affectionate remem-
brance according to his deserts. Instituting the Eucha-
rist, he said, " This do in remembrance of me." He sent
his disciples forth to convert the earth, saying, " Lo, I
am with you to the end of 'the world." Looking forward
through many nations and ages, he saw little companies
gathered together in his name, and felt himself in the
midst of them. Suffering the loneliness of a leader who
is out of sight of his followers, the idea of invisible millions
behind imaginatively brought the inspiring solace of their
companionship already into his heart. How deep his
grateful feeling, how true his bold prophecy, with regard
to the woman who poured the alabaster box of spikenard
on him ! " Verily I say unto you, wheresoever "this gos-
pel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this
also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial
of her." Inspired word of love fulfilled this day !

Entire devotion to the accomplishment of his mission,
strengthening communion with the peaceful solitudes of
nature, inspired consciousness of the presence of God,
unconquerable love of "humanity and assurance of a be-
nign dominion in the appreciating future, were the sup-
ports which, in connection with his own holy genius,
enabled Jesus to rise victoriously above the severe trials
that beset him, and leave, in unapproached pre-eminence,
a blameless example of heroism, nobleness, and beauty.
From his first clear perception and assumption of the
providential part assigned him he knew not the distress
and waste of internal conflict, but was in interior unity with
himself. This steady oneness of will and conscience is
the supreme condition of strength and peace. He whose
first recorded words, a strayed boy in the temple, were,
" Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's busi-

JESUS. 397

ness ? " could say when the shadow of the cross was fall-
ing athwart his steps, " I have finished the work Thou
gavest me to do." In all the lone passages and human-
ly unfriended hours of his life he nourished his soul with
the angels' food of the sense of duty performed, love
exercised, self sacrificed, divine favor vouchsafed. And
the most essential lesson of that Gospel which he is
rather than preaches, declares that whoever, of all the
faltering strugglers with the world, will use the same
helps in the same spirit, shall win a kindred victory.

O what a victory that was ! The wrong he received
was the crudest, the return he made the divinest, with-
in the compass of history. With godlike benignity he
stooped to pour out on all forms and conditions of men a
pitying and redeeming love never equalled in purity and
measure before or since ; and they left him to wander, for
the most part neglected, friendless, shelterless, in sorrow
and pain. Imaginatively extending his individuality to
the limits of the race and the earth, he identified himself
with all the outcasts, prisoners, sick and destitute of all
ages, all unhappy victims bleeding under the miseries of
humanity, and invoked for them the same tender treat-
ment that he thought he deserved himself; and they
hoisted him between two thieves in the place of infamy,
to die the most ignominious and torturing of deaths.
And when, with magnanimity unmatched in the annals of
humanity, he preferred, as a ground for their forgiveness,
their ignorance of the real nature of their own deeds, they
wagged their heads at him, and reviled him, and mocked
him. This was his last sight below, an upturned sea of re-
vengeful and sarcastic visages. Then came a moment,
moment of most awful loneliness ever felt by man, when
with the ebbing strength of the body the spirit too shrunk
from the encroaching darkness, and he cried, " My God,
my God, why hast thou forsaken me ? " It seems as if
that cry might have pierced immensity, shaken the
farthest stars, and wrung a response from the inscrutable
lips of Fate. Instantly the eclipse passed, eternal
light broke, "Father, into thy hands I commit my
spirit," and the earthly tragedy subsided into stillness


forever. It was inevitable that the impression on the
minds of those who afterwards learned to appreciate the
infinite contradiction between the worth of the august
sufferer and the doom he bore, between the spirit he
showed and the treatment he took, should express itself
in stories of preternatural portents, the veiling sun, the
shuddering earth, opening graves, and rending temple.

There are doctrines connected with theoretical Chris-
tianity which may never command universal assent.
There are speculative disputes on points relating to the
person and biography of its founder which may never be
satisfactorily settled. But, practically considered, in the
authoritative beauty of his character and example, which
carried the high- water mark of human nature so far
above all rival instances, no purer expression of the di-
vine in humanity is to be expected. And good men can
cherish no worthier ambition than to make the whole
world a Christopolis, whose central dome shall lift the
lowly form of Jesus in solitary pre-eminence to draw all
men unto the discipleship of his spirit, while, with ever-
progressing intelligence and liberty, they co-operate in
the mazy industries of the sciences and arts of human
life below.


THE foregoing pages have furnished abundant proof
that persons of extraordinary sensibility are likely to ex-
perience the loneliness and unhappiness of human life in
an extraordinary degree. Probably no previous age was
so rife as the present in interior discords, baffled longings,
vast and vague sentiments whose indeterminateness is a
generating source of misery. Probably there were never

Online LibraryWilliam Rounseville AlgerThe solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life → online text (page 33 of 35)