« Prev XV. The Bad Mind Makes a Bad Element. Next »

XV.

THE BAD MIND MAKES A BAD ELEMENT.

Then answered the Jews and said unto him—say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?”—John viii, 48.

It is often remarked as a curious, half ludicrous distinction of insane persons, that they look on others round them as being out of their head. And yet this kind of phenomenon is more or less observable, in all cases of diseased action, whether mental or spiritual; the subject sees his disorder, not in himself, but in the objects and conditions round him.

Under the disease or disaffection called sin, the same is true; as we may see by the answer of these carping hypocrites, when Christ reproves their high pretenses, and sanctimonious lies. “You call yourselves children of Abraham,” he says, “when you do none of his works, when your fatherhood is more truly discovered in the father of lies. And as he abode not in the truth, and has no truth in him, so because I tell you the truth ye believe me not.” They feel the sharpness of the words, but do not perceive the solemn justice of the argument—throwing it captiously back upon him as in the text; “say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan 313 and hast a devil?” Just as they should if his argument was true; for the men who have a devilish spirit are sure to see their devil objectively in others. There must be a devil on hand somewhere, they are sure, and who will expect them to find it where it is, in themselves? The truth accordingly which I now propose for your consideration is this:

That a bad mind sees bad things, and makes to itself a bad element. In other words, a bad mind projects its own evils into persons and conditions round it; charging the pains of its own inward disorder to the objects that refuse to bless it, and counting, it may be, Christ himself a sting only of annoyance.

It would be far more agreeable to me to assert this truth universally, or so as to include the good; showing how they convert all things to good by their bright and loving spirit, and how the stones even of the field are in league with them to bless them; but this would take me over too large a ground, and therefore I must be content to occupy you, for the time, with a subject not grateful in itself, hoping that you may even find the greater benefit in it. If the errand we are after is not pleasant, if it compels us to go burrowing into the dark, underground, abysses and pains of evil in the soul, let us not recoil from the task, because we find a great deal of our conceit inverted and a great many of our complaints of God and the world turned back upon ourselves.

I do not mean, of course, to say, that we can have nothing to complain of, or that other men can not do 314 us bitter wrongs. Neither do I undertake to say, that we shall not feel them. But he that suffers a wrong rightly, finds a law of compensation going with him, as with God, so that his injury, or injured feeling, is repaid many times over, like that of God, by the consciously sublime repose of his own self-approving spirit. And, this being true, it is only the bad mind in us, after all, that allows us to be really troubled and harassed by wrong. I will only add that what I am going to say may seem to be an over-statement, or exaggeration of the truth, without this qualification, and must therefore ask to have it remembered.

We shall best open the gate of our argument on this subject, if we notice two great facts, or laws of our nature, which are the ground of this tendency in us to refer our own evils to things about us, and in the same way to keep us from a discovery of them as being in ourselves.

First, by a fixed necessity of language, we are obliged, apart from all the blinding effects of our sin, to represent. a great part of what transpires in our experience, in a way of objective description. For example, it is the natural way of language to call things “hot,” “sweet,” “bitter,” and the like, when in fact the words really describe nothing but our own inward sensations. So we say that a “subject is dark,” not because there is any thing dark in the subject, but that we are dark to it. So again we say. that a thing bears a “suspicious look,” when we are suspicious of it; or of some spectacle 315 that it “is fearful,” when we are fearfully moved by it. We speak in the same way of “taking our chances” and “meeting our dangers,” when in fact there is neither chance nor danger in things at all, but only an absolute certainty that this or that will take place. The uncertainty, or ignorance of what is to come is in us, and we call it chance or danger in things. Now the great part of mankind go through life, using every hour these objective terms of language, without ever once suspecting that what they describe as without, is nothing but an experience within themselves. Almost all staple words of language, as related to our inward experience, are of just this kind; it could not, as might easily be shown, have been otherwise. In this manner, we put almost all that we suffer, enjoy, feel, and think, into the objects and doings and characters round us, not understanding that what we figure, as in them, is really transpiring in ourselves—just as we say, how often, that we have “taken a cold,” and verily believe that a cold something, we know not what, has seized us; whereas we have simply gotten up a fever—probably by over-indulgence—and then the shiverings and atmospheric chills that follow we take for the causes of the mischief.

But there is another great condition, or law of experience in bad minds, that is operating always and more powerfully in the same direction. A bad mind lives in things and for things, or we might rather say, under things. Condition, pleasure, show, are its god. And then it follows that the worship is only another name 316 for distemper, unreason, hallucination. It is not positively insane, but what is very nearly the same thing, unsane—a nature out of joint, poisoned, racked with pains, a cloudy, wild, ungoverned, misconceiving power. It knows nothing but things, and if things do not bless it, what can it do but fall to cursing them? Being a distempered organ, it sees its distempers only in things and conditions round it. Thus when a diseased ear keeps up a nervous drumming in the brain, all sweetest music will have that drumming in it. So if the taste is bittered by some dyspectic woe, it will find that bitter savor in all most delicate things, and even in the pure waters of the spring. So also, I suppose, if the humors of the eye were jaundiced, the pure light of heaven would be yellowed also. Even the sun is smoky, seen through a smoked glass. Just so we are meeting all sorts of bitter, painful, and bad things, in our life, just because we are bitter, painful, bad, ourselves, and can not see that this is the root of our misery.

Besides it is a fact, under this great law of retributive disorder, that even good things are really bad to our feeling, because there is a bad mind in us. They are not given to be our torment, but the subjective badness of the soul makes them so; just as the weakness of the diseased eye makes the light a cause of injury and pain. The light is not bad in itself, but the receiving organ is bad, and so the pure light, image itself of God, shoots in arrows of pain that sting the body. In the same way selfishness and sin make the whole soul a diseased receiving organ; when, of course, every thing received 317 or looked upon is bad, and imparts some kind of pain. The good law is made death unto it, Christ himself a savor of death. Truth is bad to us, holy men are a disturbance, life a burden, death a terror, heaven itself a world of constrained service and unreal or impossible joy.

We come now to the matter of fact itself. Is it only theory of which we have been speaking, or is it fact?

Here we make our appeal first of all to the scripture, where the illustrations are manifold and striking. There was never among men a more inoffensive, winning, and beautiful character than Joseph. But his brethren hated him and could not speak peaceably to him—hated him so intensely that they were willing to put him out of the way, by almost any method, however cruel. They talked with one another about him, painted him as a selfish, proud brother, and set him off in the most odious colors. Having a bad mind towards him, they saw only bad and hateful things in him. But the bad things were all in themselves, not in him. His only crime was his worth, and the beauty of his spirit, and that God, on this account, had advanced him, giving him the precedence his character deserved. So with Saul; the devil of jealousy creeps into his morbid, selfish heart, and he sees in David, the faith-.ful servant of his throne, a scheming usurper only and traitor, waiting to vault into his place. He is wrought up thus to such a pitch of fear and malice, that, in one of his paroxysms, he hurls a javelin at his head. The 318 evil he sees in David is really in his own wild, ugly passion, but instead of strangling that, he tries to murder him!

Equally mad, exceedingly mad, almost conscientiously mad; as he himself relates, was Saul, the young rabbi of Tarsus, though in a different vein. The fiery young zealot was hot against Jesus, hot against Stephen, hot also against all the disciples of the new religion; but the heat of his passion he afterwards discovered was in the bad fire of his own bad mind, and the miserable bigotry that possessed him.

It is also a fact most remarkable, evincing the same thing, that Jesus Christ, the only spotless and perfect character that ever breathed the air of our planet, was more accused and hated, and charged with worse crimes, than it ever fell to the lot of any mortal to perpetrate. He was not only a Samaritan and had a devil, but he cast out devils by a devil, he broke the Sabbath, he was a mover of sedition, he made himself equal with God, he spoke blasphemy, he was a conspirator against Cæsar, his silence was called obstinacy, his eating and drinking gluttony and drunkenness, his cross the proof of his weakness and a fit mark for jeering, his death his defeat as an impostor and his final expulsion from the world. And yet there was nothing in him to irritate, or anger good men. His life was beauty itself, his spirit breathed the pure benignity even of God. Yes, and for just this reason, he disturbed the bad mind of men only the more bitterly. Troubled, heated, moved with jealousy, convinced of evil, they all rushed upon him 319 as the troubler; becoming, at last, so exasperated against him, as to break out—priests, rabbis, senators, soldiers, populace—crying, all with one voice, crucify him, crucify him. See them gathering round his cross, hear their coarse mockeries and jeers! the poor fools have no thought or suspicion, that they are raging, in this diabolical malice, against exasperating causes that are after all in themselves!

The same truth is continually thrust upon our observation, in the intercourse of life. The passionate, ill-natured man is an example, living always in stormy weather, even though it be the quiet of dew-fall round him—always wronged, always hurt, always complaining of some enemy. He has no conception that this enemy is in his own bosom—in the sourness, the ungoverned irritability, the habitual ill-nature of his own bad spirit and character. I speak not here of some single burst of passion, into which a man of amiable temper may, for once, be betrayed; but I speak, more especially, of the angry characters—always brewing in some tempest of violated feeling. They have a great many enemies, they are unaccountably ill-treated, and can not understand why it is. They have no suspicion that they see and suffer bad things because they are bad, that being ill-natured is about the same thing as having ill-treatment, and that all the enemies they suffer from are snugly closeted in their own devilish temper.

The same is true of fretful persons—men and women that wear away fast and die, because they have worried life completely out. Nothing goes right; husband, or 320 wife, or child, or customer, or sermon. They are pricked and stung at every motion they make, and wonder why it is that others are permitted to float along so peacefully, and they never suffered to have a moment of peace in their lives! And the very simple reason is that life is a field of nettles to them, because their fretful, worrying tempers, are always pricking out, through the tender skin of their uneasiness. Why, if they were set down in Paradise, carrying their bad mind with them, they would fret at the good angels, and the climate, and the colors even of the roses.

The animosities of the world are commonly to be solved in the same way—“Hateful and hating one another.” A purely good mind would not hate even the worst of enemies and wrong-doers, but would. have a sublime joy in loving him still. Thus we have one kind of enmity that hates differences of thought and sentiment, and is continually rasped by the fact that other men are so generally wrong-headed. Commonly the difficulty is prejudice, or bigotry in ourselves, reigning as a narrow, self-willed principle in the heart. Another misery we suffer, in the pride, and the high airs, and the ambition, and the undeserved successes of others. We wish there was some justice in the world, and that such people had their due! This now is envy in the soul, green-eyed, sick, self-tormenting envy. Then, again, we have it as another form of misery, that, having injured some one, we for that reason hate him; and there is no hatred so implacable, so bitter, and so like the pain of hell, as that which a man has to one 321 whom he has injured—not to one who has injured him, but to one whom he has injured himself. And yet he will charge it not to himself, but only to the unaccountable fact, that the object of his malice must be so bad, so unmitigably hateful.

So again in regard to things of condition. The poor hypochondriac is just ready to be stranded in utter poverty and distress, though he holds, it may be, millions of property. We laugh at the strange fatuity he suffers. But every selfish mind is in it, only in some different way, or in some less exaggerated and palpably absurd form. Thus, what care, fear, anxiety, hunger, eagerness, is there in the world; and the secret of it is, that we are all imagining some fault in our condition. We want condition. Our thirsty, weary, discontented soul finds all it wants of blessedness denied, and wonders why it is that God has given us such a miserable desert to live in; as if the desert were in the world and not in ourselves—an immense Sahara wider than Africa knows! Why, if we were in the midst of God’s own paradise, carrying our bad mind with us, we should see the desert there. The inward dearth and desolation of a mind separated from God and the all-sufficing rest and fullness of his peace, would raise mutinous questions and harsh accusations of dryness, against the finest, most superlative felicity God has ever been able to invent for his angels themselves.

Let us not omit to notice that the immoralities and crimes of the world are commonly conceived, by those who are in them, to be not of themselves, but to be 322 chargeable on the bad causes round them. What is more continually asserted by thieves and gamblers, than the maxim that the world owes them a living; till, finally, they half teach themselves to feel that the world wrongs them, because it does not pay what it owes, but requires them to take the pay as they may find it. Whereas the bottom fact of all is, that they hate the bad necessity of work. The blasphemer, raging in a storm of imprecations and swearing by all sacred names—he is saying inwardly, even if no one remonstrates with him, how can I help it? an angel would speak some bad words, if he had such a horse as this to manage, or such a neighbor to deal with. The poor victim of drink—was he not disinherited by his father? or broken down by the slanders of enemies? or troubled by loads of debt from misfortunes that overtook him? Or married to a wife who was a perpetual thorn to his peace? Was he not driven by the bad world somehow, as he manages to think himself, into this mode of drowning his misery? And so of the traitor hatching his treason—whole states of traitors hatching public treasons. Listen to their grievances—all in others, none in themselves. They have been injured, or insulted, or at any rate they were going to be. They are hot with the sense of injury not yet arrived, and must have their redress! Farewell order! welcome anarchy and blood! What an example of human passion, seeing worlds of wrong and enmity through the smoke of its own guilty jealousies, and the rampant fury of its own domineering habit.

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Such is human nature in its bad estate everywhere. No sin sees its own evil; but the world is evil, everything is evil to it. Even truth is evil. Why should the preacher come to us with so many unwelcome messages? as if it were not enough to be dragged through such a world as this, without being disturbed all the way by hard accusations! It may be that we all sin; but the circumstances we live in are all bad, and what do we do, but what the circumstances make us. Let the preacher charge upon the circumstances! When they are not really angry at the truth, how many hearers dislike it. Little conception have they that the badness of the sermon is in themselves—“Say we not well, thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil?”

The subject I have now endeavored to illustrate is itself a purely practical subject, and yet a great many practical things beside are opened by it, that do not seem, at first, to be included. And—

1. It puts in a sad light of evidence what may well enough be called the weak point of Christianity; viz., the fact that the souls to be saved will be always seeing themselves in it, and not seeing it as it is—turning it thus into an element as dry as their dryness, as bitter as their bitterness, as distasteful and oppressive as their own weak thraldom under sin. And so it turns out that Christ is dry, bitter, a hard yoke, any thing but what he is. O, what power would there be in his love, and beauty, and divine greatness, if it were not for this. The grand difficulty in the way of a general conversion 324 is, that the bad minds of the world so immediately convert the gospel into their own figure. Christ is to them a root out of a dry ground, having no form or comeliness, and no beauty to be desired—they turn away their faces, he is despised and not esteemed. And what does he propose, in their view, but to make them like himself, laying it upon them also to be roots out of a. dry ground, even as they are to follow him in self-denial, self-sacrifice, and bearing the cross. “These you propose to us,” they say, “for our allotment; and what shall we have after we have sacrificed ourselves in this manner, and given up even our souls to the perdition of righteousness?” Every good and great thing offered is discolored from the bad color of their own bad state. And so the perpetual danger is, that what is given for their life, will be only a savor of death. Even the liberty of Christ appears to be only a way of thraldom—how can they imagine that the only real liberty of mind is the liberty of being in the truth, and the only possession of self the loss of self in God? And so it comes to pass that our gospel—mighty, gracious, captivating enough, we might think, to make an easy conquest of the world—dwindles sadly and gets fatally stifled, because it can not be to men’s eyes, what it really is in itself. It can not be the salvation it would, just because a salvation is wanted.

It used to be frequently taught that men have no susceptibility that can be acted on by the gospel, save in a way of revulsion; that they must be only more exasperated by it, the more powerfully they are made 325 to feel it. No, the difficulty commonly is that they project their own bad state into it, so as to almost shut away the feeling of it. As far as they do feel it they are drawn by the beauty of it—sometimes powerfully drawn—but alas! how soon is it discolored by their own turbid state, and the power it was going to have subsides into weakness.

2. We here perceive what is the true value of condition. I do not blame, of course, a proper attention to condition—it is even a duty. But the notion that we are really to make our state as bad or good by the surroundings of life, and not by what is within us, not only violates the scripture counsel, but; quite as palpably, the dictates of good sense—it is in fact the great folly of man. For a bad mind is of necessity its own bad state, and that state will be just as bad as the man is to himself, neither more nor less, come what may. A bad temper, a wrong love, an ungoverned pride, a restive ambition, a fretful, irritable, discontented habit within—why if a man had a den of vipers within, they would not make a state for him more absolutely than these. The surroundings of condition are to the man what the cloak is to the body, and the man who hid the fox under his cloak and hugged him close, till he gnawed into his vitals, might as well have been thinking to be happy because of his cloak, as any bad soul to be happy in sin because of condition. O, that men could be so far disenchanted of this devil that possesses their understanding, as to see how certain it is that their condition, after all, is what they are themselves; that it can be only bad as long as 326 they are bad, even if all the riches and power and splendor of the world were laid at their feet; and can be only good, if good is the spirit and the inward element of their life. Toil on, O ye slaves, contrive, and strive, and thrust yourselves on to riches and power; and then, at the end, discover that you have only gilded your misery, and built you a condition of more splendid sorrow; embittering bitterness by the mockery you offer to its comfort. Still you will see without, just what you are within, and the curse that is in you will curse every thing round you. The down you sleep on will be hard as your heart is, the silk that robes you will be a vesture of nettles to your ugly tempers, the coach in which you ride will answer to the jolting, night and day, of your bad conscience and your unsteady, gusty passions. If the bad state is in you, then every thing is bad, the internal disorder makes all things an element of disorder—even the sun in the sky will be your enemy.

3. We discover in this subject, what opinion to hold of the meaning and dignity of the state sometimes called misanthropy. Misanthropy is the state of mind that distastes men, the world, and life, and withdraws itself, more or less completely, into a feeling of self-justifying and self-isolating enmity. It is the sentimental state of wickedness, or wicked feeling, and is more common to youth than to persons of a later age. For some reason they are not happy; they begin to sympathize with themselves; they imagine how bad men are, and dislike them because they are selfish, or 327 proud, or unjust to merit; they disapprove the scheme of life, it is such a miserable affair, an experience so dull and so generally contemptible; they read Lord Byron, steeping their souls in his poetic hate, and specially sympathizing with the truculent sentiment of his Cain, retiring Cain-like, as it were, into the felicity of a self-justifying malice, to look out upon the world and curse it. Now the bottom of their woe, if they could dispossess themselves of a little vanity, is that they are bad themselves. If they have such a hatred of men, are they not men themselves? and is it not probable enough that they have some as good title to distaste themselves? Is there not another, in the next house, or chamber, who is hating men, disgusted with men, just as they are? This very foolish state of mind has one legitimate cure, and one that is true reason itself, viz., conviction of sin. As soon as they can pass on just one step farther, and see that what they so much distaste is themselves, and that all the badness of the bad world is in their own bad spirit, they are in a way to come at the true remedy. Accordingly it is in just this manner that the Holy Spirit often leads to Christ. The man begins to be sick and weary, sick in mind and so in body, for a full half of the sicknesses of the body are only distempers of the mind; the world palls and grows distasteful; he sympathizes with himself, in a manner of inward complaint, draws off from that which does not satisfy, and loosens a kind of sentimental animosity towards men and things. But the load grows heavier, chafing through the skin of his conceit into the 328 nerves of conviction; misanthropy changes to self-disgust; the secrets of the heart are opened; the conscience breaks restraint; and finally it stands revealed that sin is in the soul—a bondage, a disease, a shame, a curse. And now the question is who can heal the inward bitterness? Misanthropy, then, and world sickness are the bad state felt, conviction of sin is the bad state understood. That is a conceited misery, this the shame of a self-discovering weakness, guilt, and spiritual disorder.

4. It is clear, in this subject, that we have little reason for troubling ourselves in questions that relate to a place of future misery. Enough to know that the mind is its own place, and will make a place of woe to itself, whithersoever it goes, in a life of sin and separation from God. If the sceptic bolts upon us with the question, where is hell? or the question, whether we suppose that a God of infinite goodness has occupied himself in excavating and fashioning a local state for the torment of bad men? it is enough to answer that a bad mind carries a hell with it, excavates its own place of torment, makes it deep and hot as with fire, and will assuredly be in that place, whatever else may be true. A good mind sits in heavenly places, because it is good. Go where it will it is with God, and God is templed eternally in it; God in his own everlasting beatitude and peace. Exactly what is true of place beyond this, or of place as related to the condition of happy spirits, we do not know, but shall know hereafter. Enough that the bad mind will at least be its 329 own bad state and element. It has the fire and brimstone in itself, and the suffocating smoke, and the darkness, and the thirst, and the worm that never dies—testifying always, “I myself am Hell.” It would turn the golden pavement into burning marl, and the hymns and hallelujahs of the blessed into shrieks of discord.

Finally, it is evident in these illustrations, that the salvation of man is possible, only on the ground of a great and radical change in his inmost temper and spirit. What is wanted for the felicity of man is clearly not a change of place, or condition, but a change in that which makes both place and condition what they are. The bad spirit—this is the woe; and nothing cures the woe, but that which changes the spirit of the mind. Marvel not at this; you have only to take one glance at the world, turn one thought upon yourselves, to see it. Hence it is that Christ has come into the world as the physician of souls—it is that he may impart to them a new life and spirit from himself, and heal the disorders of their bad state, by uniting them to his own person. Think it not strange that he proposes thoughts to you so different from your own. O, ye weary ones, all ye desolate, all ye tossed with tempest and not comforted, all ye world-sick and heavy hearted, hear ye his call—“come unto me and I will give you rest.” Why, my friends, what does it mean that we are such a malcontent, miserable race of beings? Did not a good God make us and the world we live in? Why then are we so continually plagued and tormented in it? Why so hungry, so dry, so empty, so bitter, so like the troubled 330 sea and the mire and dirt it casts up in its storms? Has God made some mistake in mixing the ingredients of our state? No, it is we that make all this discord, we that mix in the acid ingredients of misery. The moment you can enter back, out of sin, into this pure element of love in Christ, this world becomes a realm of peace, a paradise of beauty, a feast of satisfying good, an instrument of joyous harmony. Change the inward state and all is changed. Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace, the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the hills shall clap their hands.

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