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no thought of high taxes. He lives from day to day as the little child lives. The child has nothing to rely upon but its father and mother. So this working woman, this laboring man, has nothing to rely upon but Providence ; yet that seems enough.
Every sorrow, calamity, disappointment, comes to us with two handles — if we take hold of one, we can bear it; if we take the other, it is intolerable. You have lost a dear friend - one in whose life
you lived, and apart from whom life seemed not worth living. The child, in whose future you placed your own hopes, is gone; what hope is left you now? Cling to this handle of irreparable loss, and your life is blighted. You walk sorrowing all your days. You are of no use to others or yourself.
Suppose, then, you look at the event differently. Your friend has left you, but who gave him to you? Was it not God from whose gift this joy of your life came? Is he not the perpetual giver, and have not all these years taught you to place some trust in him ? Does not he love his child as well as you do?
THE NEAREST DUTY.
“ WHATSOEVER THY HAND FINDS TO DO, DO IT WITH THY
O the duty which lies nearest to thee !” So said
When he said it, years ago, it seemed to many of us like a new revelation, an eleventh commandment - come to make many things clear that before were dark and vague enough.
And, certainly, it is a very important maxim. It is a good thing for us all to be fastened to a chain of daily duties; not to have to decide afresh, at every moment, what to do, but to have the hour decide for us when it
This chain of duties, which we often complain of so much, and wish to be emancipated from, keeps mind and body in health and peace. The man and woman may be accounted happy who have regular work to do, to which each hour of the day invites them; work which is useful to others and themselves; work not involving anxiety, but, rather, relieving it. We are not anxious when we are at work, but when we are not at work. To have something to do for a sick friend takes away a little of the burden of anxiety concerning him.
This chain of daily habit, therefore, is a most excellent gift to us all. No one can dispense with it. To have to get up in the morning at a fixed hour ; to dress; to breakfast; to be needed and expected in certain places during a
good part of the day; and, besides the work, to have some regular study, some regular reading, some special pursuit -scientific, artistic, philanthropic, social; this regular course of events in our lives helps us along, prevents stagnation, keeps away the fiend of uncertainty and indecision which harries the life of the unoccupied person, who, because he can do what he pleases, is very apt not to be pleased with doing anything.
We often complain of these conventional and common duties; but much mental, moral and physical health comes out of them. The first demand we make on work is that it shall be regular, not spasmodic; habitual, not occasional; something which does not require new efforts of will, but which we are led to do by the expectations of others, the requirements of circumstances, the conventions of society, the tacit understanding which people have with each other not to leave the highway of custom except for some good reason.
The nearest duties, then, are, first, the regular and customary duties of our life. This makes the rule ; but there are exceptions to every rule, and important exceptions to this. While we
ght, all of us, to begin with the duties which come to us, and are laid upon us by circumstances and the recurrent necessities of life, it does not follow that we are to remain there always.
The nearest duty may take another form, and become that nearest to our ability, that which we are the most fit to do. The nearest duty may be that " which our hand finds to do,” not that which is found for it.
To find any thing, usually implies some independent looking, not mere passive reception. A duty which finds us may not be that which we find, and so not the nearest.
The customary routine of life is an excellent support, a
good thing to lean upon; but we must not be enslaved by it. No one can dispense with routine, but we must sometimes rise above it.
The danger in this maxim is that it may lead to narrowness, keeping us in a little rut where we only plod along, caring for no one outside of our own small circ taking no interest in the concerns of humanity around us. How many families there are in Boston, to-day, who do nothing, from January to December, for any persons outside of themselves! Yet they are doing with their might what their hand finds to do-only it all concerns themselves, their own children, their own kindred, their own friends. They are very respectable, very worthy people, but profoundly indifferent to all that concerns the happiness of others, here or hereafter, who do not belong to their own little circle.
Now, if Christianity consists in following Christ and imitating him, it is evident that such as these are not Christians. They may be very good people, but their goodness is not Christian goodness, for Christ“ went about doing good," and they do no good, except at home. Christ tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan he teaches us that our neighbor is every man who needs our help, and whom we are able to aid.
When the Samaritan saw the wounded man lying by the wayside, he might have thought his nearest duty was to himself and to his own family ; that the robbers might return, and, if he stopped to help the Jew, he might lose his own life.
“My nearest duty is to get home as soon as I can," so he might have said ; “I ought to take care of myself, and not risk my life for this Jew, who is one of the enemies of my people.” But he did not reason this way. He believed it his nearest duty to help every one he was
able to assist, whoever it might be; and he counted this stranger, though of another race, and of an alien religion, as his neighbor.
There are times when our nearest duty is not to ourselves, nor to our family ; times when we must, like Abraham, go out from our own city and country. The nearest duty of some persons may be to serve as missionaries to the Chinese or the Hindoos; the nearest duty of others, to visit the prisoners, or to console the sufferers not of their own house or kindred. No one lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. The great power by which Christianity redeems the world is by making us see that our neighbor is the suffering man, the needing man, though as far off as degrees of latitude and longitude can place him.
When a young girl, a peasant and shepherdess on the eastern frontier of France, left her quiet fields, her silly sheep, her humble daily avocation, to encounter the dangers of war in order to lead the armies of her prince to victory, that was her nearest duty. When, four centuries later, a young man, a student in Paris, determined to go to India to find the scriptures of a dead religion, and translate them, that was his nearest duty. The nearest duty of Socrates was to spend his life in showing pretenders to knowledge how ignorant they really were. The nearest duty of Linneus was to study the Flora of the world. The inventor leaves his routine of work, and spends days, months, years, in baffled efforts to put into visible form some idea of his brain. If he succeeds, at last, men admit that this was his nearest duty. Others besides Socrates have their demon, who tells them to scorn delights and. live laborious days in doing what seems, at the time, folly to those around them.
The nearest duty, then, may be that which is not nearest in space or time, but that which is nearest to the heart and