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True and False Discontent.
A NOTHEll German Emperor has passed away, after a short and tragic reign. But short and tragic though it was, it possessed a glory all its own. Succeeding in a dying state to the Empire, experiencing every day the terrific progress of his ghastly disease, the Emperor Frederick nevertheless won, in the short space of three months, the admiration and the love of the whole civilised world,—a kingly, imperial achievement unique in the history of the race. No man ever had a heavier burden, but he bore it patiently, even cheerfully, to the end. No man ever had more temptation, no man could ever have more excuse, to shirk responsibility; but he devoted himself unsparingly to his duty till he died. You may not perhaps altogether agree with his policy. You may think —as I am inclined to think—that he was too much of a Eadical, that his views were too Utopian; but we all feel sure that he did most earnestly desire the wellbeing of his subjects, and that in all his public acts he was instigated by this motive alone. To those who knew him he was very lovable; kind and considerate, with a keen sense of humour and a boyish love of fun. He was a brave soldier and a skilful general. He united in a rare degree the courtesy of a gentleman with the dignity of an emperor. But more than all, he was a good man— one of the best of men; perhaps if we take everything into account, we shall not be far wrong if we say he was quite the best man this century has produced.
We have seen (A) that the pessimists take an exaggerated view of the miseries of life. I pass on to notice (B) that they overlook the necessity for pain.
Some pain is manifestly needed as a warning to preserve us from greater pain—to keep us from destruction. If pain had not been attached to injurious actions and habits, animals and men would long ago have passed out of existence. Suppose, for example, that fire did not hurt, we might easily be burnt to death before we knew that we were in danger. Suppose the loss of health were not attended with discomfort, we should lack the strongest motive for preserving it. And the same is true of the pangs of remorse which follow what we call sin. In point of fact all injurious deeds may be regarded as sins, and the pain which accompanies them may always be looked upon as a punishment. When a man injures himself directly, he really at the same time injures others indirectly, for his own power of usefulness has been diminished. And conversely, when he injures others directly, he really at the same time injures himself indirectly, for his own character has been deteriorated. The actions and habits to which pain, physical or moral, has been attached are bad apart from the pain. And since that pain tends to prevent us from doing ourselves harm, it may be regarded as a token of the wisdom and beneficence of God, as a proof that we live not in the worst possible, but rather in the best possible, world.
Further, pain is necessary for the development of character, especially in its higher phases. I have pointed out to you before1 that in some way
^ee my'Origin of Evil.'
or other, though we cannot exactly tell how, pain acts as an intellectual and spiritual stimulus. This is a fact of experience. The world's greatest teachers have often, if not generally, been men who have suffered much, e.g., Dante, Shakespeare,. Darwin. Shelley has said—
"Most wretched men are cradled into poetry by wrong;
I have pointed out to you that suffering develops in us pity, mercy and the spirit of self-sacrifice, and that as a general rule the noblest men and the sweetest women are those who have suffered most. I have pointed out to you that suffering develops in us self-respect, self-reliance, and all that is implied in the expression strength of character. Our very pleasures are actually increased by pain; because we enjoy our good fortune all the more for having struggled up to it through hardship, conflict and effort. The kind of suffering then which leads to the perfecting of our character, may be regarded as a still further proof of the wisdom and beneficence of God, and of the fact that we are living in the best possible world.
There is another reason why some amount of pain is inevitable, and to this I shall call your attention in the next sermon.
In the meantime I want to answer one or two objections which may be raised against all arguments of this description. In the first place, it may be said that, however many reasons we may find for part of the misery of existence, we can never account for all. That is quite true. Only, don't you see? if we can discover reasons for some suffering, we may not illogically believe, or at any rate hope, that there are reasons, good and sufficient reasons, which will account for all suffering, though at present we have not discovered them.
Further, it may be objected, in the second place, that it is idle to talk of the necessity of suffering, for with Omnipotence there is no necessity. Omnipotence could keep us from injurious conduct without the infliction of pain. Omnipotence could create us perfect to start with, and then there would be no need for the discipline of pain. This objection was very well put in a letter I received last week. "Perhaps finite minds can only learn goodness by means of suffering; but in that case whence came this necessity? If from God—if He made the necessity, so to speak—then He has given us all this pain and unhappiness; if not, then the necessity overrules Him, and takes our fate out of His hands. I should like to believe, not that God cannot help our suffering, but that He means us to go