Successward: His Religious Life (Chapter 7)

Successward is the 1895 book written by Edward Bok.

When a writer seeks to present the religious life a being, be he young man or patriarch, it naturally follows that he can only be general in what he says. Religion is too much a matter of one’s innermost feelings, of one’s own convictions, to be governed by rule or example. But in these days of men more or less wise, when many of the truths which our forefathers held sacred are being discussed in so-called “new lights,” and when the convictions of many are disturbed by reason of these “new doctrines,” it is well, I think, that young men should bear in mind one or two fundamental truths so far as the religious side of their lives is concerned.

It is not within the province of this book to treat either of dogmas or creeds, or of the necessity of church-going; but it does come within its lines to say these words to every young man who reads this chapter:

No matter what present revelations or subsequent discoveries may prove or seek to disprove as to religious teachings, one great essential can never be altered, and that is the necessity of a firm faith, an absolute belief, that a wise God rules over this universe and over the destiny of each and every living man, woman, or child. Whatever constitutes that God is not for us to solve. The wisest of us can only dimly comprehend it. Our minds are finite; the Spirit who rules us is infinite; and nothing finite can comprehend or understand the infinite. Enough is it for us to know that there is a God, that there is a Supreme Being, a Creator, a Ruler. That is all it is given us to know. It is all that the new-born infant can know; it is all that the finest and keenest mentality ever given to man can know. But that there is a great Creator no one can doubt; everything in nature points to that one fact; and the young man who refuses to believe in the existence of a God makes the greatest and most momentous mistake of his life. Without that faith, without that absolute conviction, he is not only hindered or crippled in whatever he undertakes, but he is simply helpless. On that point he cannot afford to err; to doubt it, even in the light of the most advanced knowledge that can ever be presented, he cannot for one single moment allow himself. This much is absolute.

Another point is like unto it, and it is that every person can go to that Creator and Dispenser of all good, and receive, through supplication, guidance in all affairs. This is but another way of expressing an earnest, a heartfelt, an honest belief in prayer. Whatever arguments may be brought to bear upon this question, one thing remains undisputed: that an honest and earnest prayer sent forth from the human heart to its Heavenly Father, for guidance or for help, is sure, and absolutely sure, to bring strength and enlightenment to the mind. No scientific analysis can refute this. Too many millions of people have experienced the truth of this in their lives. Argument on this point is pointless; it is fruitless. A young man might as well argue that he loved his mother. Conscious experience does more than theoretical argument, and that conscious experience has taught the happiest men and the best women who ever lived that there is a direct communication between God and the humblest person who ever lived, and that a prayer for guidance sent from the heart of man to that God is never lost. There is in every man and woman not alone substance of material matter, but a spiritual nature which, if kept in daily contact with its God, finds a response such as can come from no finite source. This truth no young man can hesitate to believe—the efficacy of prayer. It requires no creed to believe it, no dogma, no form of religion. It is a simple belief that to ask a heavenly guidance in all things good and right means a fruition of the highest and best hopes of a man.

With this absolute faith in the existence of a God, and in prayer, only one thing more is needed to complete the fundamental basis of all religions—an honest effort to live according to our conscience and to the best and truest that is within ourselves.

Here, then, is a simple religion for any young man. If his heart craves it and his mind can compass it, he can go deeper into the question and believe more. But less he cannot accept. Nor, if he is wise, will he wish to accept less. All objections fall before so simple a code of belief. It asks for no great mental capacity; it is beyond the mental power of none. The rising and setting of the sun, the coming of the seasons, the downfall of night upon day, the birth of a child, the death of a man—everything proves to the humblest mind that this is a religion which it can accept without hesitancy, without a single misgiving. When we go beyond these fundamental principles we go into questions which are complex and open to individual construction. However a young man may decide for himself those questions, he cannot shirk the three points I have dwelt upon. They will teach him a respect for all sacred things, without which no man can earn respect for himself. They will teach him charity for the faults of others, without which none can hope for leniency for his own shortcomings. They will teach him to hold out the helping hand to others, without which he can himself never succeed. They will keep him close to the teachings and the beliefs of his mother, without which a young man is untrue to the source from which he sprang.

I think, so far as church attendance is concerned, that a young man serves his best interests if he is a regular attendant at some form of worship. I do not say he should or must; I simply believe he is wisest if he does identify himself with some religious body which comes closest to his tastes and beliefs. Whatever be the faults of the church as an institution, a young man must never forget the fact that it is an order born of God, that he sanctioned it, and that if it has its shortcomings it is simply because man is not perfect. Young men with their critical faculties on the alert are prone to discover some single defect, or what looks to them as a defect, in some church with which they are acquainted, and foolishly condemn the church as an institution. Or they will see hypocrisy stand out bold and clear in some man or woman known as a devout attendant at church, and they condemn church-membership as a whole and belittle the influence of religious teachings. This is wrong, and hence it is unfair. None of us would think of condemning all the sweet flowers that grow simply because of a few that are poisonous to the touch. Or, because we know some women who do not follow righteous lives, we certainly would not condemn the entire sex of women, which would necessarily include our own mother. We cannot condemn the many because of the few. A young man should keep his mind fixed on the purposes of the church as an institution, and those purposes affect him for the reason that the church is to-day the balancing power between this earth being a chaos and what it is. It is the greatest safeguard to home and society; and because of the fact that it is such a powerful safeguard, many things are made possible for him which, without the church, it would be impossible for him to enjoy. The church is an indispensable factor in our modern life, and it holds out more possibilities for good to a young man than any other single institution. Its influence is always sure, and he can depend upon it. The best people of our land are its upholders. The most successful men are among its believers and worship at its altar. Worship—true worship of the heart—does not imply a sickly sentimentality, as some young men believe; to go to church is not “babyish,” nor to stay away from it “smart.” A true belief in the church and its fundamental teachings is one of the manliest qualities which one can possess. In its atmosphere of worship the spiritual—that is, the softer and gentler—side of man dominates the material side, and to a young man in the race for success this is all-essential. No young fellow can afford either to disbelieve in the church or to scoff at its workings or influence. The methods pursued may not always be to our liking or to our way of thinking, but that is, as I have said before, simply because earthly hands minister over it. But its aim is divine, and that every young man must believe and accept as a belief.

And here let me say a word touching the application of religious principles to a young man’s business life. The question is asked, and as often discussed: “Is a life built upon religious principles really compatible with a young man’s business success?” Or sometimes it is put: “Does it really pay to be honest in business?” Or again: “Can a young fellow be religious and yet successful?” Of course all are but variations of the same question.

Now the simple fact of the matter boiled down is that a business success is absolutely impossible upon any other basis than an honorable one, followed upon lines of the very strictest honesty.

The great trouble with young men is that their ideas are altogether too much influenced by a few unfortunate examples of apparent success which are prominent—too prominent, alas!—in American life to-day. These examples, for the most part representing politicians, are regarded in the eyes of the world as successful; that is, they are talked about incessantly; interviewed by reporters; they lavishly buy diamonds for their wives and build costly houses; and all these are duly reported in the newspapers. Young men read these things and ask themselves, “If he can, why not I?” Then they begin to look around for some “short cut to success,” as one young fellow expressed it to me not long since. And it is precisely through this method of “cutting across lots” in business that scores of young men find themselves, after a while, completely baffled. And the man who has once had about him an unsavory taint in his business methods rarely—very rarely—rids himself of that atmosphere in the eyes of his confrères. How often we see some young man in business representative of the very best qualities that should win success! Every one agrees that he is brilliant. “He is clever,” is the general verdict. He impresses one well in his manner, he is thoroughly businesslike, is energetic, and yet, somehow or other, he never seems to get into a place and stick there. People wonder at it, and excuse it on the ground that he has not quite found his right place. But some day the secret is explained. “Yes, he is clever,” says some old business man, “but, don’t you know, he isn’t—well, he isn’t just safe!” Just safe! How much that expresses; how clearly that defines hundreds and hundreds of the smartest young men in business to-day! He is everything else, but he isn’t “just safe”! He is not dishonest in any way, but he is, what is equally as bad, not quite reliable. To attain success he has, in other words, tried to “cut across lots.” And rainbow-chasing is really a very commendable business in comparison with a young man’s search for the “royal road to success.” No success worth attaining is easy; the greater the obstacles to overcome the surer is the success when attained. “Royal roads” are poor highways to travel in any pursuit, and especially in a business calling.

It is strange how reluctant young men are to accept as the most vital truth in life that the most absolute honesty is the only kind of honesty that succeeds in business. It is not a question of religion or religious beliefs. Honesty does not depend upon any religious creed or dogma that was ever conceived. It is a question of a young man’s own conscience. He knows what is right and what is wrong. And yet, simple as the matter is, it is astonishing how difficult it is of understanding. An honest course in business seems too slow to the average young man. “I can’t afford to plod along. I must strike, and strike quickly,” is the sentiment. Ah yes, my friend, but not dishonestly. No young man can afford to even think of dishonesty. Success on honorable lines may sometimes seem slower in coming, but when it does come it outrivals in permanency all the so-called successes gained by other methods. To look at the methods of others is always a mistake. The successes of to-day are not given to the imitator, but to the originator. It makes no difference how other men may succeed—their success is theirs and not yours. You cannot partake of it. Every man is a law unto himself. The most absolute integrity is the one and the only sure foundation of success. Such a success is lasting and the only one which wins respect. Other kinds of successes may seem so, but it is all in the seeming and not in the reality. Let a young man swerve from the path of honesty and it will surprise him how quickly every avenue of a lasting success is closed against him. Making money dishonestly is the most difficult thing to accomplish in the world, just as lying is the practice most wearing to the mind. It is the young man of unquestioned integrity who is selected for the important position. No business man ever places his business in the hands of a young man whom he feels he cannot absolutely trust. And to be trusted means to be honest. Honesty, and that alone, commands confidence. An honest life well directed is the only life for a young man to lead. It is the one life that is compatible with the largest and surest business success.

A religious life, whether in business or out of business, is one which every young man not only should, but can follow. It partakes of no gloom, as many suppose; it means no depression of spirits. It means simply the living of an upright life, a life of respectability. Religion is nothing more nor less than an adherence to the simple code I have presented: a recognition of a God, and an allegiance in manner of life to that God. And that manner of living is simply a healthy development of the spiritual nature—keeping close to one’s best instincts. The communion of a man with his Creator comes with such a manner of living. But this is all that a religious life means. That comprises true religion, at once the easiest and the safest element for any young man to take into his life. It will stand the severest test, and will prove a veritable Rock of Gibraltar to him in time of anxiety and trouble.

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