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THE LAW OF LIMITATION.
sensitive and animal nature ? Let that nature be cherished and expanded by all its innocent and legitimate enjoyments, for it is an end. But, — and here we find the limit,- let it be cherished only as subservient to the higher intellectual life, for it is also a means. Let the intellectual nature have its full growth; let it scale every height, and sound every depth, for it is an end; but let it do this only in subservience to the higher emotive, moral and spiritual nature, for this, too, is a means. Thus let each of these, while it fulfils its own ends, so fulfil them as to minister to the sphere above, until we come to that which is not a means, but is of itself an end, and an absolute good. Men may enjoy pleasure, may use intoxicating drinks and narcotics to any extent they please, provided it shall interfere with no higher good. They may indulge in expense, amusements, fashion, as they will, if there is nothing higher and better that they can do. Certainly if there is nothing better they can do, they had better do that. The law applies universally so long as there is a good that is conditional for one above it, - so long as there is an end that is also a means. But when we reach the highest and supreme good, as that is conditional for nothing beyond itself, there can then be no excess. That is infinite; it is the ocean without a bottom or a shore.
Up to this point this system has fully met the wants of that part of our nature whose activities have a natural limit which cannot be passed without degradation and loss on the whole. At this point it meets those indefinite yearnings which testify to the connection of man with the Infinite, and are the presage of his immortality.
We may now readily see how far Aristotle was right. His system had a basis, and not a narrow one. Much of our good is the result of proportion and limitation, and of finding the golden mean. He was right so far as he went, but he needed the law of limitation, and he did not see the ocean.
It will be observed that none but a good man can adopt the model above proposed, for no bad act can be at once an end and a means. Lying, cheating, stealing, are means only, and can never become ends; but every good act is not only an end in itself, but is also a means of confirming him who does it in habits of goodness; and thus he who adopts this model will find provision in it that his path shall be as that of the just, “shining more and more unto the perfect day."
The law of limitation, above given, implies the natural law of self-denial.
This requires us to reject no good cynically because it is a good. It respects every part of the human constitution as made by God, and gives free play to every activity within its own limits. It says, with an apostle, that
every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving.” Any supposable strength in the appetites will only give force to the character, provided the governing powers keep them wholly under control. No matter how strong and spirited the horses if they are trained to perfect subjection. So with the desires. The desire of knowledge and of power and of esteem cannot be too great if they do not conflict with the affections and the moral nature. As they are stronger, they will but afford a richer soil in which these can strike their roots, and thus furnish the sap for a more abundant fruitage. And so it is with every lower form of activity. The stronger it is, the better for those above it, if it does not conflict with them. The stronger and more healthy the body, if a man be not at all animalized through it, the
LAW OF SELF-DENIAL.
better for every mental faculty, and for every high and healthful form of affection and emotion. The law requires the restriction or denial of every appetite, desire, propensity, passion, at the point where it would interfere with something higher, and only at that point. This is the natural and original law. But if moral disorder has come in and become habitual, if great interests are at stake in circumstances of temptation and struggle, it may be wise, and even a duty, to ignore and reject many pleasures that might otherwise be indulged in, as the soldier who hastens to defend his country may not stop to enjoy fine scenery by the way.
This gives us the difference between the natural law of self-denial and the Christian law. The first would be the law for a man in health, simply requiring that nothing should be done to injure that. But Christianity is wholly a remedial system. “ They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick;" and the law of self-denial as a remedy, or as a condition for the working of other remedies, may be as different from its natural law as the regimen of a sick man should be from that of one who is well. It has been from a consciousness of disorder that difficulties and obscurity have arisen at this point. There has been a feeling that self-denial, as well as self-torture, was compensatory; and then, when the lower powers had gone to excess, it is not strange that there should be a tendency to their undue repression, and even eradication. This has given rise to asceticism, and penances, and to a vast brood of superstitious observances. But precisely what the natural law is in its place, that the Christian law is in its place. Under Christianity self-denial is not a remedy, but the condition for the working of remedies, and its law is that it shall be carried just so far as is necessary for the best working of those great remedies which God has
provided for the moral disorders of this world. This may often make self-denial very severe, but only as it is salutary. It may require the cutting off of a right hand, or the plucking out of a right eye, but only on the condition that they “offend,” that is, cause you to stumble in your course towards heaven.
In what has been said hitherto, the dependence of the higher upon the lower forces and powers has been prominent. So long as these powers remain within the limits of unconsciousness, the right proportion is always preserved ; but when they come under the direction of a finite, and especially of a perverted will, that proportion is not preserved. The danger is that the dependence of the higher upon the lower will be ignored, that the lower will in consequence be neglected and deteriorate, and then that the higher itself, the fountain of its sap being dried, will dwindle and wither. So is it always when a short-sighted selfishness would snatch too soon and grasp too much; so always when men would reach their ends by circumventing or evading those laws by which God has appointed that they should be gained.
The law and this is especially true in organic life - is, that that which is highest can increase only through the ministration of the parts that are lower, and hence that the perfection of the highest in its sphere can be reached only as the lower are made perfect in their sphere. In training a child, would any one secure the highest, the best balanced, and the longest continued action of the mind, he can do it only by so attending to the body as to secure the priceless but subordinate blessings of health and a sound physical
constitution. Would you have healthy feeling? Cultivate the intellect, else feeling will be fanatical. So has God constituted every organic being that "if one member suffer all the members suffer with it.” Yea, and so that upon “ those members of the body which we think to be less honorable we should bestow more abundant honor;" since the perfection of the more honorable members that are ministered unto can be attained only through the perfection of the less honorable that minister. Our end may be the perfection of the higher; our method must be to secure it through the perfection of the lower.
This method is one of wide application. It teaches us, while we aim at the highest, to care for the lowest; while we aim at the mind, to care for the body; while we aim at a perfect government, to care for the people and to seek to educate and elevate them; while we aim at perfect social organizations, to give woman her true place, not as inferior, but as different. No element of reaction upon progress can be swifter or more fatal than that of degraded mothers. It teaches us to care for children, and seryants, and slaves, and criminals. Nature herself seems to cry out to us to do this. All history shows how men have disregarded this method and law, and it shows, too, how the law has avenged itself by bringing down the high and the low together. This is indeed the one great lesson of history. It needs to be pondered, more especially by republics, where the barriers of form and of force are so feeble; but whatever the form of government may be, the law is as pervading and resistless as that of gravitation, and the result is only a question of time. That result no form of heathen civilization has been able to prevent. It can be but one so long as successful men and successful