Benefactors Or Malefactors
( Originally Published 1879 )
WE are all well doers or evil doers. " None of us liveth to himself." We die, but leave an influence behind us that survives.
The echoes of our words are evermore repeated, and reflected along the ages. It is what man 'was that lives and acts after him. What he said sounds along the years like voices amid the mountain gorges; and what he did is repeated after him in ever-multi plying and never-ceasing reverberations. Every man has left behind him influences for good or for evil that will never exhaust themselves. The sphere in which he acts may be small, or it may be great. It may be his fireside, or it may be a kingdom; a village, or a great nation, it may be a parish, or broad Europe; but act he does, ceaselessly and forever. His friends, his family, his successors in office, his relatives, are all receptive of an influence, a moral influence which he has transmitted and bequeathed to mankind; either a blessing which will repeat itself in showers of benedictions, or a curse which will multiply itself in ever-accumulating evil.
Every man is a missionary, now and forever, for good or for evil, whether he intends and designs it, or not. He may be a blot, radiating his dark influence outward to the very circumference of society, or he may be a blessing, spreading benedictions over the length and breadth of the world; but a blank he can-not be. The seed sown in life springs up in harvests of blessings, or harvests of sorrow. Whether our influence be great or small, whether it be for good or evil, it lasts, it lives somewhere, within some limit, and is operative wherever it is. The grave buries the dead dust, but the character walks the world, and distributes itself, as a benediction or a curse, among the families of mankind.
The sun sets 'beyond the western hills, but the trail of light he leaves behind him guides the pilgrim to his distant home. The tree falls in the forest; but in the lapse of ages it is turned into coal, and our fires burn now the brighter because it grew and fell. The coral insect dies, but the reef it raised breaks the surge on the shores of great continents, or has formed an isle in the bosom of the ocean, to wave with harvests for the good of man. We live and we die; but the good or evil that we do lives after us, and is not "buried with our bones."
The babe that perished on the bosom of its mother, like a flower that bowed its head and drooped amid the death-frosts of time—that babe, not only in its image, but in its influence, still lives and speaks in the chambers of the mother's heart.
The friend with whom we took sweet counsel is removed visibly from the outward eye; but the lessons that he taught, the grand sentiments that he uttered, the holy deeds of generosity by which he was characterized, the moral lineaments and likeness of the man, still survive and appear in the silence of eventide, and on the tablets of memory, and in the light of morn and noon, and dewy eve; and, being dead, he yet speaks eloquently, and in the midst of us.
Mahomet still lives in his practical and disastrous influence in the East. Napoleon still is France, and France is, almost Napoleon. Martin Luther's dead dust sleeps at Wittenburg, but Martin Luther's accents still ring through the churches of Christendom. Shakespeare, Byron, and Milton, all live in their influence, for good or evil. The apostle from his chair, the minister from his pulpit, the martyr from his flame-shroud, the statesman from ,his cabinet, the soldier in the field, the sailor on the deck, who all have passed away to their graves, still live in the practical deeds that they did, in the lives they lived, and in the powerful lessons that they left behind them.
"None of us liveth to himself;" others are affected by that life; "or dieth to himself;" others are interested in that death. The queen's crown may moulder, but she who wore it will act upon the ages which are yet to come. The noble's coronet may be reft in pieces, but the wearer of it is now doing what will be reflected by thousands who will be made and moulded by him. Dignity, and rank, and riches, are all corruptible and worthless; but moral character has an immortality that no sword-point can destroy; that ever walks the world and leaves lasting influences behind.
What we do is transacted on a stage of which all in the universe are spectators. What we say is transmitted in echoes that will never cease. What we are is influencing and acting on the rest of mankind. Neutral we cannot be. Living we act, and dead we speak; and the whole universe is the mighty company forever looking, forever listening; and all nature the tablets forever recording the words, the deeds, the thoughts, the passions of mankind!
Monuments, and columns, and statues, erected to heroes, poets, orators, statesmen, are all influences that extend into the future ages. The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle still speaks. The Mantuan bard still sings in every school. Shakespeare, the bard of Avon, is still translated into every tongue. The philosophy of the Stagyrite is still felt in every' academy. Whether these influences are beneficent or the reverse, they are influences fraught with power. How blest must be the recollection of those who, like the setting sun, have left a trail of light behind them by which others may see the way to that rest which remaineth for the people of God!
Since our earthly life is so brief, " and the night will soon come when the murmur and hum of our days shall be dumb evermore," it were well to have mile stones by the way pointing to a better land. Ah! these are the true laborers in the world's great harvest field in any and in all its varied departments.
The yeoman, gathering treasures from the bosom of the earth, and thus aiding in the sustenance of humanity; the miner, delving into the deep cavern and bringing forth, diamonds and precious stones, adding to the world's vast wealth; the manufacturer, sending the costly fabrics through the land, and securing exchange from foreign countries; the architect, with the proud monuments of his skill ; the sculptor, with his chisel carving the form divine ; the artist, writing out in letters of abiding light the faces we so fondly love, and thus blessing us with the continued presence of not only our absent ones, but also those who "are not," since God hath taken them; all these are truly earth's benefactors;, and yet only the silver links in the mighty chain.
Would we be numbered among earth's benefactors, and have our middle and latest life filled with richest and holiest experiences, we must be ofttimes oblivious of self, con well the lesson contained in the "Golden Rule," and be still further perfected in the two great commandments, "on which hang all the law and the prophets." When all the purple and gold, the glitter and tinsel of our earthly life is ended, and the unknown and mysterious eternity is spread out to our immortal vision, will it not be a source of greater joy to us to have wiped a tear from the eye of the sorrowing, to have soothed a weary pilgrim crossing the river of death, pointing by an eye of faith to the "better country," "even a heavenly," to have plumed one wing for its eternal flight, than to possess crown, or wear fame's brightest laurels?
It is only the pure fountain that brings forth pure water. The good tree only will produce the good fruit. If the center from which all proceeds is pure and holy, the radii of influence from it will be pure and holy also. Go forth, then, into the spheres that you occupy, the employments, the trades, the professions of social life; go forth into the high places, or into the lowly places of the land; mix with the roaring cataracts of social convulsions, or mingle amid the eddies and streamlets of quiet and domestic life what ever sphere you fill, carry into it a holy heart, you will radiate around you life and power, and leave behind you holy and beneficent influences.