- For those of us that yearn for Joy / Truth / the Divine / for Heaven on Earth; For those of us that have been tortured by the sense that all this, and the real Christianity has been kept from us behind some sort of perverted ChristiVoodoo religion, in the way Jesus saw that God was kept from the Jews by some sort of horrible JudoVoodoo religion, YOU WILL BE ECSTATIC to read this work.
How important is this work?
If for Gandhi Jesus was the greatest human ever to exist, his hero, his model,
and if for Gandhi, was Jesus Greatest Living Apostle...
We seekers had better understand quite well.
- The Chapters are deliberately OUT OF SEQUENCE BELOW:
Preface and Intro
CH 10, 11, 12
CH 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Why? Because Ch 3-9, although essential, are much more technical. Do what you want but I suggest reading in the order provided below.
I use highlighting for my own study as follows:
Very, Very Sublime
Very, Very, Very Sublime
- With much gratitude I credit the follow site for the entirety of the material: What I Believe. In case you find my highlighting annoying you may wish to go directly to this site.
- IF YOU PREFER AUDIO MP3: What I Believe, Leo Tolstoy - mp3 - audio book, What I believe by Leo Tolstoy.
- GENERAL NOTE: "If you love me, you will do greater works than these!" After years of study, including years of studying Tolstoy, this work, below leaves me breathless. Having said that, on the one hand he leaves me ashamed at his superior faith that walking Jesus path, following his commandments, will require much less sacrifice, risk and pain than I naturally perceive. However, I believe that Tolstoy greatly underestimates, although he relentlessly and aggressively alludes to, the Heaven, the psychologically HEAVENLY STATE that infallibly coexists with the following of Jesus commandments when done so by surrendering to the HUMANITY, that which is of God within us. AND THIS HEAVENLY STATE "OVERCOMES" ANY AND ALL PHYSICAL SACRIFICE THAT COMES WITH FOLLOWING JESUS COMMANDMENTS, just as Jesus promised, so often in His teachings.
- Regarding Tolstoy:
"The Kingdom of God is Within You" is the reason we know the name Gandhi. Gandhi read this (begin with the last 2 chapters) as a young law student. It entirely changed the direction of his life. Tolstoy's work regarding Jesus became Gandhi's "Bible" in South Africa and India.
"The Gospel in Brief" is Tolstoy's translation of the Bible. The greatest story ever told - without all the Voodoo added later on.
"The Law of Love and the Law of Violence," written 2 weeks before his death, was instrumental to Dr. King; a book he read when at Crozier Seminary in his youth.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
The name of Count Leo Tolstoy stands high in the annals of his country’s literature as the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. His memory will be cherished and his works will be read by later generations, long after the author is no more. But none will remember him with such devoted affection as will the privileged few who have watched his life and labors during the last seven years. During this period he has withdrawn from the world and its vanities and has devoted himself to the study of the teachings of Christ. Having become profoundly impressed with the Savior’s words concerning the duty of living a life of unselfish toil for the benefit of others, he has been endeavoring in a practical way to carry out his Master’s commands and has devoted himself to ministering to his fellows.
In these pages he sets forth the principles by which he is now ordering his life, and which he exhorts all men to adopt. The work has unfortunately been forbidden in Russia, but the manuscripts pass from hand to hand, doing their silent work of regeneration in the hearts of those who long for the coming of the kingdom of God on earth.
To English readers the construction of the work may appear somewhat strange and occasional statements may even seem startling, but though they may not be expressed in the conventional language to which the nations of England and America are accustomed, the right principles are inculcated and it is the translator’s earnest hope that Count Tolstoy’s words may find an echo in the hearts of all those who believe in the regeneration of humanity through the spirit and teachings of Christ.
When I began to read Tolstoy’s The
Literary purists will be unhappy that I have tried to bring Popoff’s translation up to date with the changes in grammar and usage that have been made in the last 120 years. (I am unhappy with Popoff’s use of quotation marks and semicolons, but I have left most of them unchanged.) They will be happier with Kessinger Publishing’s reprint of the original. I wanted to make this material understandable to the widest possible audience, and I felt that 19th century style, King James quotations, and outright mistakes did not serve that end. I made every attempt to remain faithful to Tolstoy’s original intention. If I have failed in that attempt, I am a reasonable fellow. Point out my errors and I will fix them.
Do I agree with everything that Tolstoy wrote? No. I think he had a romantic and unrealistic notion of peasant life. He did not account for psychopathic behavior. That is not to say that such behavior invalidates his conclusions, but it is an omission that some will certainly use against him. He has, by today’s Protestant standards, a somewhat skewed view of orthodox theology, no doubt because, at the time he wrote What I Believe, he only knew the teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church of 120 years ago. It would appear that Tolstoy did not experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which leads him to think only of ‘reason’ when writing of ‘the light that is within us,’ and does not believe in the devil. Still, much of what he had to say is as true today as the day he wrote it – and is even true of today’s Protestant churches.
This transcription is under no copyright protection. It is my gift to you. You may freely copy, print, and transmit it, but please do not change or sell it.
I am fifty-five years old and, with the exception of the fourteen or fifteen years of my childhood, I have been until recently a “Nihilist” in the proper signification of that term. I have not been a Socialist or Revolutionist, but a Nihilist in the sense of being completely without faith.
Five years ago I began to believe in the doctrine of Christ, and in consequence a great change has been wrought in me. I now no longer care for the things that I had prized, and I have begun to desire things concerning which I had formerly been indifferent. Like a man who, going out on business, on his way suddenly becomes convinced of the futility of that business and turns back; and all that stood to the right now stands to the left, and all that was to the left is now to the right; his wish to be as far from home as possible is changed to the desire of being as near home as possible – so, I may say, the whole aim and purpose of my life has been changed; my desires are no more what they have been. For me, good and evil have changed places. This experience came through my apprehending the doctrine of Christ in an altogether different way, and seeing it in quite a new light.
It is not my intention to interpret the doctrine of Christ, but simply to relate how I came to understand the simplest, clearest, and most intelligible point in that doctrine; and how, when once I had clearly grasped His meaning, it gave a new direction to all my thoughts.
I have no wish to interpret the doctrine of Christ, but I should like to prevent others from interpreting it wrongly. Christian churches generally acknowledge that all men, however they may differ from each other in knowledge or mental capacity, are equal before God; and that the truth revealed to man is accessible to all. Christ Himself has told us that the Father has hidden some things ‘from the wise and prudent, and revealed them to babes.’
All men cannot be initiated into the mysteries of dogmatic, homiletic, and patristic theologies, and so on, but all can understand what Christ taught and still teaches to simple and ignorant men. The teachings of Christ were incomprehensible to me until recently, but I understand them now, and what I have found I desire to explain to others.
The thief on the cross believed in Christ and was saved. Would it have harmed anybody if the thief had not died on the cross, but had come down to tell us how he believed in Christ?
Like the thief on the cross, I, too, believed in the doctrine of Christ, and found my salvation in it. This is not a far-fetched comparison; it worthily describes the condition of anguish and despair I was once in at the thought of life and of death, and it also indicates the peace and happiness that now fill my soul.
Like the thief, I knew that my life was full of wickedness; I saw that the greater part of those around me were morally no better than I was. Like the thief, too, I knew that I was unhappy, and that I suffered; and that all around me were unhappy and suffering likewise, and I saw no way out of this state of misery but through death.
Like the thief, I was nailed, as it were by some invisible power, to this life of suffering and evil; and the same dreadful darkness of death that awaited the thief, after his useless suffering and enduring of the evils of life, awaited me.
In all this I was like the thief, but there was this difference between us: he was dying, and I still lived. The thief could believe that his salvation would be realized beyond the grave, but I could not; because, putting aside the life beyond the grave, I had yet to live on earth. I did not, however, understand life. It seemed awful to me until I heard the words of Christ and understood them; and then life and death no longer seemed to be evils; instead of despair I felt the joy of possessing a life that death has no power to destroy.
Can it harm anyone if I relate how it was that this change was effected in me?
I have endeavored to explain the reason why I had not properly understood the doctrine of Christ in my two works, A Criticism on Dogmatic Theology and A New Translation and Comparison of the Four Gospels, with a commentary. In these works I examine all that conceals the truth from the eyes of men, and also retranslate and compare the four gospels verse by verse.
I have been engaged for some six years upon this work. Every year, every month, I find new solutions and suggestions, and I am enabled to correct the defects that creep in through haste or impulse. My life will perhaps end before the work is complete, but I am sure that it is a much needed labor I have imposed on myself, and therefore I shall do what I can while my life lasts.
This is my outward work on the theology of the gospel. But the inner working of my soul, which I wish to speak of here, was not the result of a methodical investigation of doctrinal theology, or of the actual texts of the gospel; it was a sudden removal of all that hid the true meaning of the Christian doctrine – a momentary flash of light, which made everything clear to me. It was something like that which might happen to a man who, after vainly attempting, by a false plan, to build up a statue out of a confused heap of small pieces of marble, suddenly guesses at the figure they are intended to form by the shape of the largest piece; and then, on beginning to set up the statue, finds his guess confirmed by the harmonious joining in of the various pieces.
I wish to tell in this work how I found the key to the doctrine of Christ, by the help of which the truth was disclosed to me so clearly and convincingly.
I made the discovery in the following manner. Almost from the first years of my childhood, when I began to read the gospel for myself, the doctrine that teaches love, humility, meekness, self-denial, and returning good for evil was the doctrine that touched me most. I always considered it as the basic teaching of Christianity and loved it as such; but it was only after a long period of unbelief that its full meaning flashed upon me, that I understood ‘life’ as our unlettered working classes understand it, and accepted the same creed that they profess, the creed of the Greek Orthodox Church. But I soon observed that I should not find in the teaching of the Church the confirmation of my idea that love, humility, meekness, and self-denial were the essential principles of Christianity. I saw that this, which I regarded as the basis of Christianity, did not form the main point in the public teaching of the Church. At first I did not attach much importance to this. ‘The Church,’ I said to myself, ‘acknowledges, besides the doctrine of love, humility, and self-denial, a dogmatic and ritualistic doctrine. This estranges my heart; it is even repulsive to me, but there is no harm in it.’
While, however, submitting to the teaching of the Church, I began to see more and more clearly that this peculiarity was not as unimportant as I had at first regarded it. I was drawn away from the Church by various singularities in its dogmas; by its approval of persecution, capital punishment, and war; and also by its intolerance of all other forms of worship than its own; but my faith in the teaching of the Church was shaken still more by its indifference to what seemed to me the very basis of the teaching of Christ, and by its evident partiality for what I could not consider an essential part of that doctrine. I felt that there was something wrong, but I could not make out distinctly what it was, because the Church did not deny what seemed to me the main point in the doctrine of Christ, though it failed to give it its proper position and influence.
I only passed from ‘Nihilism’ to the Church because I felt the impossibility of living without faith – without a knowledge of what is good and evil, resting on something more than my animal instincts. I hoped to find this ‘something’ in Christianity. But Christianity, as it appeared to me then, was only a certain disposition of mind – a very vague one. I turned to the Church for obligatory precepts of life, but the Church gave me only such as did not draw me nearer to the Christian state of mind I longed for, but rather alienated me from it. I turned away from the Church. For the precepts that were given to me by the Church concerning belief in dogmas, observance of the sacraments, fast-days, and prayers, I did not care; and precepts really founded on the teachings of Christ were wanting.
Moreover, the precepts of the Church weakened, and sometimes even destroyed, that Christian state of mind that alone seemed to me to be the true aim of life.
What perplexed me most of all was that all the evil things that men do, such as condemning private individuals, whole nations, or other religions; and the inevitable results of these condemnations – executions and wars – were justified by the Church. I saw that the doctrine of Christ, which teaches us humility, tolerance, forgiveness, self-denial, and love, was extolled by the Church, but that at the same time she sanctioned what was incompatible with such teachings.
Could the doctrine of Christ be so weak and inconsistent? That I could not believe. Besides, it had always perplexed me to find that the texts upon which the Church has grounded her dogmas are of an obscure character, whereas those that teach us how to live are the most simple and clear. While the Church specifies the dogmas, and the duties derived from them, in the most forcible manner, the practice of the ‘doctrine’ is urged only in obscure, dim, and mystical expressions. Is it possible that this was what Christ desired for His teaching? I could only find the solution of my doubts in the perusal of the gospels, and I read them over and over again. Of all the gospels, the Sermon on the Mount was the portion that impressed me most, and I studied it more often than any other part. Nowhere else does Christ speak with such solemnity; nowhere else does He give us so many clear and intelligible moral precepts, which commend themselves to everyone. If there are any clear and definite precepts of Christianity, they must have been expressed in this sermon; and, therefore, in those three chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel I sought the solution of my doubts.
Many and many a time I read over the sermon, and every time I felt the same emotion on reading the texts about ‘turning my cheek to the one who strikes me,’ ‘giving up my cloak to him who takes my coat,’ ‘being at peace with all men,’ and ‘loving my enemies,’ – and yet there remained in me the same feeling of dissatisfaction. The words of God were not as yet clear to me. They seemed to enjoin an impossible self-denial that annulled life itself, and therefore it seemed to me that such self-denial could not be the requirement on which man’s salvation depended.
But, then, if that were not the express condition of salvation, there was nothing fixed and clear! I not only read the Sermon on the Mount, but the rest of the gospels, and various commentaries upon them. Our theological explanations tell us that in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount an indication is given of the perfection after which man must strive; that man, being full of sin, cannot attain this perfection by his own unaided strength, and that the salvation of a man lies in faith, prayer, and the gifts of the grace of God; but these explanations did not satisfy me.
Why should Christ have given to us such clear and good precepts, applicable to us all, if He knew beforehand that the keeping of them was impossible by man in his own unaided strength?
On reading over these precepts, it always seemed that they applied to me, and that I was morally bound to obey them. I even felt convinced that I could, immediately and from that very hour, do all that they enjoined.
I wished and tried to do so, but as soon as any difficulty arose in the way of my keeping them, I involuntarily remembered the teaching of the Church, that ‘man is weak, and can do no good thing by himself,’ and then I became weak.
I had been told that it was necessary to believe and to pray, but I felt that my faith was weak and that I could not pray. I had been told that it was necessary to pray for faith – for that faith without which prayer is of no avail. I was told that faith comes through prayer and that prayer comes through faith, which, to say the least, was certainly bewildering. Such statements commended themselves neither to reason nor experience.
After much useless study of the works that have been written in proof of the divinity or non-divinity of this doctrine, and after many doubts and much suffering, I was left alone with the mysterious Book, in which the doctrine of Christ is taught. I could not interpret it as others did, I could not abjure the Book, and yet I could not find a new and satisfying interpretation. It was only after losing all faith in the explanations of learned theology and criticism, and after laying them all aside in obedience to the words of Christ (Mark 10:15), that I began to understand what had until then seemed incomprehensible to me. It was not by deep thought, or by skillfully comparing or commenting on the texts of the gospel, that I came to understand the doctrine. On the contrary, all grew clear to me for the very reason that I had ceased to rest on mere interpretations. The text that gave me the key to the truth was the thirty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, ‘You have heard that it has been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist evil…’ The simple meaning of these words suddenly flashed full upon me; I accepted the fact that Christ meant exactly what He said; and then, though I had found nothing new, all that had hitherto obscured the truth cleared away, and the truth itself arose before me in all its solemn importance.
I had often read the passage, but these words had never until now arrested my attention: ‘I say to you, do not resist evil.’
In my conversations since with many Christian people, who know the gospels well, I have observed the same indifference to the force of this text that I had felt. Nobody specially remembered the words; and, while conversing with persons upon the text, I have known them to take up the New Testament in order to assure themselves that the words were really there.
The words, ‘Whoever shall strike you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also,’ had always presented themselves to me as requiring endurance and self-mastery such as human nature is hardly capable of. They touched me. I felt that to act thus would be to attain moral perfection; but I felt, too, that I should never be able to obey them if they entailed nothing but suffering. I said to myself, ‘Well, I will turn my cheek – I will let myself be struck again. I will give up my coat – they shall take my all. They shall even take away my life. Yet, life is given to me. Why should I thus lose it? This cannot be what Christ requires of us.’ Then I said to myself, ‘Perhaps in these words Christ only purposes to extol suffering and self-denial, and in doing so He speaks exaggeratingly and His expressions are therefore to be regarded as illustrations rather than precise requirements.’ But as soon as I comprehended the meaning of the words, ‘do not resist evil,’ it became clear to me that Christ does not exaggerate, that He does not require suffering for the mere sake of suffering, and that He only expresses clearly and definitely what He means. He says, ‘Do not resist evil,’ and if you do not resist evil, you may meet with some who, having struck you on one cheek, and meeting with no resistance, will strike you on the other; after having taken away your coat, will take away your cloak also; having profited by your work, will oblige you to work on; will take, and will never give back. ‘Nevertheless, I say to you, do not resist evil. Still do good to those who even strike and abuse you.’
Now I understood that the whole force of the teaching lay in the words ‘do not resist evil,’ and that the entire context was but an application of that great precept. I saw that Christ does not require us to turn the other cheek, and to give away our cloak, in order to make us suffer; but He teaches us not to resist evil, and warns us that doing so may involve personal suffering. Does a father, on seeing his son set out on a long journey, tell him to pass sleepless nights, to eat little, to get wet through, or to freeze? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Go, and if on the road you are cold or hungry, do not be discouraged but go on’? Christ does not say ‘Let a man strike your cheek, and suffer,’ but He says, ‘Do not resist evil. Whatever men may do to you, do not resist evil.’ These words, ‘do not resist evil’ (the wicked man), thus apprehended, were the clue that made all clear to me, and I was surprised that I could have hitherto treated them in such a different way. Christ meant to say, ‘Whatever men may do to you, bear, suffer, and submit; but never resist evil.’ What could be clearer, more intelligible, and more indubitable that this? As soon as I understood the exact meaning of these simple words, all that had appeared confused to me in the doctrine of Christ grew intelligible; what had seemed contradictory now became consistent, and what I had deemed superfluous became indispensable. All united in one whole, one part fitting into and supporting the other, like the pieces of a broken statue put together again in their proper places.
This doctrine of ‘non-resistance’ is commended again and again in the gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ represents His followers – i.e., those who follow this law of non-resistance – as liable to be persecuted, stoned, and reduced to beggary. Elsewhere He tells us that the disciple who does not take up His cross, who is not willing to renounce all, cannot be His follower, and He thus describes the man who is ready to bear the consequences that may result from the practice of the doctrine of non-resistance. Christ says to His disciples, ‘Be poor, be ready to bear persecution, suffering, and even death, without resisting evil.’ He prepared for suffering and death Himself without resisting evil; He reproved Peter, who grieved over Him because He proposed to yield in this way; and He died, forbidding others to resist evil, remaining true to His own doctrine and His own example. All His first disciples obeyed the same law of the non-resistance of evil, and passed their lives in disability and persecution.
We may bring forward, as an objection, the difficulty of always obeying such a law; we may even say, as unbelievers do, that it is a foolish doctrine, that Christ was a dreamer, an idealist who gave precepts that are impossible to follow. But, whatever our objections may be, we cannot deny that Christ expresses His meaning most clearly and distinctly; and His meaning is that man must not resist evil; he who fully accepts His teaching cannot resist evil.
When I at last clearly comprehended that the words ‘do not resist evil’ do really mean that we are never to resist evil, my former ideas concerning the teaching of Christ underwent a complete change. I wondered, not so much at my eyes being opened to the truth at last, but at the strange darkness that had, until then, enveloped my understanding. I knew – we all know – that the foundation requirement of the Christian doctrine is love toward all men. Isn’t all Christianity summed up in the words, ‘Love your enemies’? I had known that from my earliest childhood. How was it, then, that I had not hitherto taken in these words in all their simplicity, but rather had sought for some allegorical meaning in them? ‘Do not resist evil’ means never to resist evil, i.e., never offer violence to anyone. If a man reviles you, do not revile him in return; suffer, but do no violence. While believing, or at least endeavoring to believe, that He who gave us this commandment was God, how did I come to say that I could not obey it in my own strength? If my master were to say to me, ‘Go and cut wood,’ and I were to answer that I could not do it in my own strength, would it not show that either I had no faith in my master’s words, or that I did not choose to obey him? God has given to us a commandment that He requires us to obey; He says that only those who keep His commandments shall enter life eternal; He fulfilled this commandment Himself, as offering us His example; and how could I then say that, though I never really tried to fulfill it, this injunction was one that it was impossible for a man to keep in his own strength, and without supernatural aid?
God became man for the securing of our salvation. Salvation lies in the fact that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, suffered for us men, redeemed us from sin, and gave us the Church through which the grace of God is transmitted to all believers. Moreover, God the Son has left us this doctrine (teaching), and His own example, to show us the way of salvation. And yet, I said that the rule of life given to us by Christ was not only a hard one, but also an impossible one, apart from supernatural aid. Christ does not consider it as such. On the contrary, He says definitely that we are to fulfill His commandments, and that he who does not shall not enter the
If a man were to set all the faculties of his mind to the annulling of a given law, what more forcible argument could he use for its suppression than that it was an impracticable law, and that the legislator’s own opinion of it was that it could not be kept without supernatural aid? And yet, this was exactly what I had thought about the commandment ‘not to resist evil.’ I tried to remember when and how the strange idea had first come into my mind, that the doctrine of Christ was divine in authority but impossible in practice. On reviewing my past life, I discovered that this idea had never been transmitted to me in all its nakedness, for then it would have repelled me; but that I had imperceptibly imbibed it from my earliest childhood, and that the associations of my life had confirmed the strange error.
I was taught from my childhood that Christ is God and that His teaching is divine and authoritative; while, on the other hand, I was also told to respect those institutions that, by means of violence, secured my safety from evil; I was taught to honor those institutions as being sacred. I was taught to resist evil; and it was instilled into me that it was humiliating and dishonorable to submit to evil and to suffer from it; and that it was praiseworthy to resist evil. I was taught to condemn and to execute. I was taught to make war, i.e., to resist evil by murder. The army, a member of which I was, was called a ‘Christ-loving’ army, and the Church consecrated its mission. I was taught to resist an offender by violence and to avenge a private insult, or one against my native land, by violence. All this was never regarded as wrong, but, on the contrary, I was told that it was perfectly right and in no way contrary to Christ’s doctrine.
All surrounding interests, such as the peace and safety of my family, my property, and myself were based on the law that was rejected by Christ – on the law of a ‘tooth for a tooth.’
Ecclesiastical teachers told me that the doctrine of Christ was divine, but that its observance was impossible on account of the weakness of human nature; and that the grace of God alone could enable us to keep this law. Secular teachers told me, and the whole order of life proved, that the teaching of Christ was impracticable and ideal, and that we must, in fact, live contrary to His doctrine. I imbibed such a notion of the practical impossibility of following the divine doctrine gradually and almost imperceptibly. I was so accustomed to it, it coincided so well with all my animal feelings, that I had never observed the contradiction in which I lived. I did not see that it was impossible to admit the Godhead of Christ – the basis of whose teaching is non-resistance of evil – and, at the same time, to work consciously and calmly for the institutions of property, courts of law, kingdoms, the army, and so on. It could not be consistent for us to regulate our lives contrary to the doctrine of Christ, and then pray to the same Christ that we might be enabled to keep His commandments – to ‘forgive,’ and not to ‘resist evil.’ It did not then occur to me, as it does now, that it would be much simpler to regulate our lives according to the doctrine of Christ; and then, if courts of law, executions, and war were found to be indispensably necessary for our welfare, we might pray to have them too.
And I understood from where my error arose. It arose from my professing Christ in words and denying Him in deed.
The precept ‘not to resist evil’ is one that contains the whole substance of Christ’s doctrine, if we consider it not only as a saying, but also as a law we are bound to obey. It is like a latchkey that will open any door, but only if it is well inserted into the lock. To consider this rule of life as a precept that cannot be obeyed without supernatural aid is to annihilate the whole doctrine of Christ completely. How can a doctrine, the fundamental law of which is cast aside as impracticable, be considered practicable in any of its details?
This is what was done with Christ’s doctrine when we were taught that it was possible to be a Christian without fulfilling His law not to resist evil.
A few days ago I was reading the fifth chapter of St. Matthew to a Hebrew rabbi. ‘That is in the Bible – that is in the Talmud too,’ he said at almost each saying, pointing out to me, in the Bible and the Talmud passages very much like those in the Sermon on the Mount. But when I came to the verse that says, ‘do not resist evil,’ he did not say that is also in the Talmud; but only asked me with a smile, ‘Do Christians keep this law? Do they turn the other cheek to be struck?’ I was silent. What answer could I give, when I knew that Christians, in our days, far from turning the other cheek when struck, never let an opportunity escape of striking a Hebrew on both cheeks. I was greatly interested to know if there was any law like this in the Talmud, and I inquired. He answered, “No, there is nothing like it; but pray tell me, do Christians ever keep this law?’ His question showed me clearly that the existence of a precept in the law of Christ, which is not only left unobserved, but of which the fulfillment is considered impossible, is superfluous and irrational.
Now that I comprehend the true meaning of the doctrine, I see clearly the strange state of contradiction within my own self that I had permitted to arise. I was confessing Christ as God, and His teaching as divine, and at the same time I was ordering my life contrary to His teaching. What was left for me to do but to acknowledge the teaching as an impracticable one? In word I acknowledged the teaching of Christ as sacred; but I did not carry out that teaching in deed, for I admitted and respected the unchristian institutions that surrounded me.
Throughout the Old Testament we find it said that the misfortunes of the Israelites arose from their believing in false gods, and not in the true God. In the eighth and twelfth chapters of the first Book of Samuel, the prophet accuses the people of having chosen, instead of God, who was their King, a human king who, according to their opinion, was to save them. ‘Do not believe in [toga] vain things,’ says Samuel to the people (1Sa.12:21). ‘They will not help you and will not save you, for they are [toga] vain. In order not to perish with your king, believe in God alone.’
My faith in these ‘toga,’ in these empty idols, hid the truth from my eyes. In my way to Him these ‘toga,’ which I did not have the strength to renounce, stood before me, obscuring His light.
One day, as I was passing through Borovitzki gate, I saw a crippled old beggar with his head bound up in a ragged cloth and sitting in a corner. I had just taken out my purse to bestow a trifle upon him, when a bold, ruddy-faced young grenadier in a government fur coat came running down the Kremlin slope. On seeing the soldier, the beggar sprang up with a look of terror and ran limping down toward the Alexander Garden. The grenadier pursued him, but, not succeeding in overtaking him, stopped short and began to abuse the poor fellow for having dared to sit down near the entrance-gate in defiance of orders. I waited until the grenadier came up to where I stood, and then asked if he could read.
‘Yes; what of that?’ was the answer. ‘Have you ever read the gospel?’ ‘I have.’ ‘Do you know these words: “He who feeds the hungry …”?’ I repeated the text to him. He listened attentively. Two passers-by stopped. It was evidently disagreeable to the grenadier that, while conscientiously discharging his duty by driving people away from the entrance-gate, as he was ordered to do, he unexpectedly found himself in the wrong. He looked puzzled, and seemed to be searching for some excuse. Suddenly his dark eyes brightened up with a look of intelligence, and, moving away as if about to return to his post, he asked, ‘Have you read the military code?’ I told him that I had not. ‘Well, then, do not talk of what you do not understand,’ he said, with a triumphant shake of his head; and muffling himself up in his overcoat, he went back to his post.
He was the only man I have met in all my life who strictly, logically, solved the problem of our social institutions, which had stood before me, and still stands before each who calls himself a Christian.
We say that it is hard to live in accordance with Christ’s precepts! How can it be otherwise than hard while we conceal our state from ourselves and earnestly try to maintain the trust that our state is not what it really is? Calling that trust ‘faith’ we exalt it into something sacred, and either by violence, by working upon the feelings, by threats, by flattery, or by deceit we seek to allure others to that false trust. A Christian once said, ‘Credo quia absurdum,’ and other Christians now enthusiastically repeat the words, thinking a belief in absurdities is the best way to the truth.
A clever and learned man observed to me, a short time ago, in the course of conversation, that the Christian doctrine was of no importance as a doctrine or morality. ‘We find the same,’ he said, ‘in the teachings of the Stoics, the Brahmins, and in the Talmud. The substance of the Christian doctrine is in the theosophical teaching contained in the dogmas.’ That means that what is eternal and general to all humanity, what is necessary for life, and what is rational, is not of most value. But what is quite incomprehensible, and therefore unnecessary, but in the name of which millions have been put to death, is the most important point of Christianity!
We have formed an erroneous idea of life, both as concerns ourselves personally and the world in general. We have based it on our own wickedness and on our personal lusts; and we look upon that erroneous idea – united only by outward observances to the doctrine of Christ – as most important and necessary to life. Were it not for that trust in what is but falsehood, which has been upheld by men for ages, the falsity of our view of life, as well as the truth of Christ’s doctrine, would have become manifest long ago.
Awful as it may seem to say so, I sometimes think that if the doctrine of Christ, with the Church teaching that has become a part of it, had never existed, those who now call themselves Christians would be nearer than they are now to the doctrine of Christ; i.e., to a rational idea of the true happiness of life. The morality taught by all the prophets would not then have been a closed book for mankind. Men would have had their petty preachers of the truth, and they would have believed them. But now that the whole truth has been revealed, it seems so awful to those whose deeds are evil that they have interpreted it falsely, and men have lost their trust in the truth. In our European world the saying of Christ, that ‘He came into the world in order to bear witness of the truth, and that he who is of the truth hears Him,’ has long since been answered in the words of Pilate, ‘What is the truth?’ We have taken in earnest these words of Pilate’s, expressive of such sad and deep irony, and we have made them our faith. In our world not only do all live without knowing the truth, and without a desire to know it, but also with the firm conviction that of all idle occupations the idlest is the search after truth. The doctrine of life that all nations, long before the existence of European society, considered as most important, that doctrine which, as Christ told us, is the only thing necessary, is alone excluded from our lives. This is done by the institution called the Church; and yet even those who themselves belong to that institution have long ceased to believe in it.
The only aperture that lets in the light, toward which the eyes of all who reflect and suffer turn, is concealed. There is but one answer to the questions, ‘What am I? What shall I do? Can I not render my life easier by following the commandments of the God who, according to your words, came to save us?’ And that answer is, “Honor and obey the authorities, and believe in the Church.’ ‘But why is there so much suffering in the world?’ cries a despairing voice; ‘Why is there so much evil? Can I not refuse to take part in it? Can evil not be mitigated?’ The answer is, ‘It is impossible. Your wish to lead a good life, and to help others to do so, is but pride and vainglory. The only thing you can do is to save yourself, your soul, for a future life. If you wish to flee from the evils of the world, leave the world.’ ‘There is a way open to each,’ says the teaching of the Church, ‘but know that, having chosen it, you have lost all right to return to the world, that you must cease to live, and must voluntarily die a lingering death.’ There are only two ways open to us; our teachers tell us that ‘we must either believe our spiritual pastors and obey them and those who are in authority over us, and take an active part in the evil they organize, or else leave the world and enter a monastery, deprive ourselves of food and sleep, let our bodies rot on a iron pillar, bend and unbend our bodies in endless genuflections, and do nothing for our fellow-creatures.’ Thus, a man must either confess the doctrines of Christ to be impracticable, and live contrary to them, or renounce the life of this world, which is but a type of slow suicide.
Surprising as the erroneous assumption that the doctrine of Christ is sublime but impracticable may seem to him who understands it, the error by which it is maintained, that he who wishes to keep the commandments of Christ, not only in word but in deed, must leave the world, is still more surprising.
The erroneous idea that it is better for a man to leave the world than to submit to its temptations is an old error, known to the ancient Hebrews, but entirely foreign not only to the spirit of Christianity, but even to that of Judaism. It was against that very error that the story Christ loved and so often quoted, of the prophet Jonah, was written. The story contains one idea from beginning to end. The prophet Jonah wishes to be the only just man, and flies from association with the depraved inhabitants of
Christ knew this story and often quoted it; we are likewise told in the gospel that Christ Himself, after visiting John the Baptist, who had retired to the wilderness before he began his preaching, was subjected to the same temptation, and was conducted into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (by delusion). He overcame that delusion and, in the strength of the spirit, came back into Galilee and, from that time, without abhorring those who were depraved, He passed His life among publicans, Pharisees, and sinners, teaching them the truth.
According to the teaching of the Church, Christ, who was God and man, gave us an example of how we were to live. Christ passed His whole life, as we know, in the turmoil of life, with publicans, adulteresses, and the Pharisees in
According to the interpretation given by the Church, Christ’s doctrine does not teach either secular men or monks how they are to live in order to make their own lives and the lives of their fellow-creatures better, but teaches the former what they must believe in order to be saved in the next world, in spite of their evil lives, and enjoins the latter to make their lives on earth still harder.
But this is not what Christ teaches us.
Christ preaches truth, and if abstract truth is truth, it will be truth in reality. If life in God is the only true life, blissful in itself, it will be true and blissful here on earth, in all the various circumstances of life. If life here did not confirm the doctrine of Christ, that doctrine would not be true.
Christ does not call men from good to evil, but on the contrary, from evil to good. He pities men, whom He considers as lost sheep perishing without their shepherd, and promises them a shepherd and good pasture. He says that His disciples will be persecuted for His doctrine, that they must suffer, and bear the persecution of the world. But He does not say that if they follow His doctrine they will suffer more severely than if they follow the teaching of the world; on the contrary, He says that those who follow the teaching of the world will be miserable, and those who follow His doctrine will be blessed.
Christ does not teach us that we shall be saved either through faith, or through asceticism, i.e., self-deception, or voluntary torments in this life; but He teaches us a life in which, besides salvation from the ruin of individual life, there will be less suffering and more joy than in individual life, even here on earth.
Revealing His doctrine to men, Christ says that by following His doctrine, even in the midst of those who do not do so, they will be happier than those who do not fulfill His doctrine. Christ says that, even from a worldly point of view, it is a successful plan not to care about the life of this world.
Mark 10:28-31: Then Peter began to say to Him, ‘Lo, we have left all, and have followed You.’ Matt.19:27,29-30: ‘What shall we have therefore?’ And Jesus answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no man who has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.’ (Matt. 19:27; Luke ; )
Christ mentions, it is true, that those who follow Him shall be persecuted by those who do not; but He does not say that the disciples shall lose anything by doing so. On the contrary, He says that His followers shall have more joy in this world than those who are not His.
We cannot doubt that Christ spoke and thought thus. He says it clearly; the spirit of His teaching proves it, as well as the way in which He Himself and His disciples lived. But is it true?
On an abstract examination of the question, whether the state of the followers of Christ or that of those who live for the world will be best, we cannot help seeing that the state of the followers of Christ must be better, because, by doing good to all, they avoid exciting the hatred of men. The follower of Christ will do no harm to any, and will therefore be persecuted by the wicked; but the followers of the world will be persecuted by all, because the law of life, of those who live for the world, is a law of strife, or the persecution of each other. The chances of suffering may be the same for both, with the difference that the followers of Christ will be ready to bear them, while the followers of the world will use all their endeavors to avoid them; the followers of Christ will suffer, but will know that their suffering is necessary for the good of humanity, while the followers of the world will suffer without knowing the reason why they suffer. Reasoning abstractly, the state of the followers of Christ should be more profitable than that of the followers of the world. But is it so?
Let each verify this by calling to mind all the trying moments of his life, all the suffering, both moral and physical, which he has gone through, and still goes through, and let him ask himself in whose name he bore, and still bears, all that misery. Was it for the sake of the world, or for the doctrine of Christ? Let him examine his past life, and he will see that he never once suffered from having followed the doctrine of Christ; he will see that all the unhappiness of his life proceeded from his having, contrary to his own inclinations, followed the teaching of the world.
During my life, which has been an exceptionally happy one, according to the opinion of the world, I can remember so much suffering borne by me for the sake of the world, that it might have sufficed for the life of one of the greatest martyrs of Christianity. All the most trying moments of my life, from the orgies and debauches of my student days, to duels, war, and ill health – all the unnatural and painful conditions of life in which I now live – were and are but martyrdom for the sake of the world.
I speak of my life, which, as I say, has been an exceptionally happy one, according to the opinion of the world. But how many martyrs there are who have suffered, and still suffer, for the teaching of the world, whose sufferings I cannot even picture to myself!
We do not see the difficulty and peril there is in following the teaching of the world, only because we look upon all we bear for its sake as being absolutely necessary.
We have become convinced that all the misfortunes that we create for ourselves are indispensable conditions of life, and we cannot understand that Christ shows us the way to escape suffering and to attain happiness.
In order to examine the question, which life is a happier one, we must cast aside all our mistaken notions, and examine all those around us and ourselves without any preconceived idea.
Pass through a crowd of people, especially those living in a town, and see their wearied, sickly, and anxious faces; then think of your own life, of the lives of those you know; think of all the unnatural deaths, all the suicides that you may have chanced to hear of, and ask yourself what led to all the despair and suffering that drove these men to commit suicide. And you will see that nine-tenths of the suffering there is in this life is borne for the sake of the world; that it is all unnecessary suffering that need not exist; that men are, for the most part, martyrs of the teaching of the world.
A short time ago, on a rainy Sunday in the autumn, I drove in an omnibus through the market place near Souhareva tower, in
Reflect what the lives of all these men and women are; think of all they have left, of the hard work to which they have voluntarily condemned themselves; and you will see that they are true martyrs.
These men have left their homes and fields; they have left their fathers, brothers, wives, and children; they have forsaken all, and have come into the town to procure what the teaching of the world forces each to consider as indispensable. And not only these thousands and thousands of miserable beings who have lost all, and now live from hand to mouth on tripe and brandy, but all, I say, from workmen, cabmen, seamstresses, and harlots, to rich merchants, bureaucrats, and their wives, lead the hardest, most unnatural lives, and yet fail to attain what is considered necessary according to the teaching of the world.
Tell me whether you can find among all these men, from the beggar to the rich man, a single man who finds that what he earns is sufficient for all that he considers as indispensably necessary, and you will not find one in a thousand. Each struggles to get what he does not of himself require, but what is considered requisite by the world, and the want of which, therefore, makes him miserable. No sooner has he attained it, than more and more is required, and so this labor of Sisyphus goes on without intermission, ruining life after life. Take, in an ascending scale, the fortunes of men, from those who spend thirty rubles a year to those who spend fifty thousand, and you will seldom find a man who is not tormented and worn out with his efforts to obtain four hundred if he has but three hundred, five hundred if he has four, and so on without end. There is not one who, having five hundred, would voluntarily exchange with him who has but four hundred. Each strives to lay a still heavier burden on his already heavy-laden life, and gives up his whole soul to the teaching of the world. Today a man has earned an overcoat and galoshes; tomorrow he gets a watch and a chain; then a lodging with a comfortable sofa, carpets in the drawing room, and velvet clothes; then he buys a house, horses, pictures in gilt frames; and then, having overworked himself, he falls ill and dies. Another continues the same career, likewise sacrificing his life to the same Moloch, dying in the same way, without knowing why he does all this. Well, but perhaps, with all this, men are happy.
What are the principal requisites for earthly happiness, those that no one can deny?
The first condition essentially necessary for happiness has always been admitted by all men to be a life in which the link between him and nature is not destroyed – that is, a life in the open air, in the sunshine, in communion with nature, plants and animals. Men have always considered being deprived of this as the greatest misfortune that could befall them. Prisoners feel this privation above all others. And now consider what the life of those who live according to the teaching of the world is. The more successful their worldly career is, the further they are from all that is true happiness. The higher the worldly prosperity they have attained, the less sunshine do they enjoy, the fewer are the fields, woods, and animals they see. Many, indeed almost all, women dwelling in towns live to old age without having seen the rising of the sun more than once or twice in their lives. They have never seen the fields and woods, except through the windows of their coaches or of railway carriages; not only have they never brought up and tended cows, horses, or poultry, but also they have no idea even how animals grow and live. These people see stuffs, stones, and wood worked by human hands, and do not even see them in the light of the sun, but in an artificial light. They hear the noise of machinery, cannons, or musical instruments; they inhale strong scents and tobacco smoke; their enfeebled digestions crave stimulating food that is neither fresh nor savory. Nor are they nearer to nature even when traveling from one place to another. They travel shut up in boxes. Wherever they go, be it into the country or abroad, the same curtains hide the light of the sun from their eyes; footmen, coachmen, and watchmen prevent all communication between them and nature. Wherever they go they are, like prisoners, deprived of this condition that is so necessary for happiness. As prisoners find consolation in a blade of grass that grows in the yard of their prison, or a spider, or a mouse, so do these men and women find consolation, from time to time, in keeping half withered plants on their window sills, or in parrots, lap dogs, or monkeys, the care of which they leave to others.
A second indubitable condition necessary for happiness is labor – congenial, free labor, physical labor, which gives a man a good appetite and sound, invigorating sleep. And, again, the greater the prosperity a man has attained, according to a worldly estimate, the further he is from this second condition, essentially necessary for happiness. All the ‘fortunate’ of this world, the great dignitaries and rich men, are either as completely deprived of labor as prisoners are, and struggle unsuccessfully against ill health, which is the result of the absence of physical labor, and still more unsuccessfully against the ennui to which they are a prey (I say ‘unsuccessfully,’ for work is a source of pleasure only when it is necessary), or they have work to do that they hate, as, for instance, our bankers, attorneys, generals, and bureaucrats. I say it is work they hate because I never yet met one among them who liked his work, and who found as much pleasure in it as a stable boy does in clearing away the snow before his master’s house. All these so-called fortunate beings have either no work to do or work that they hate; they are, indeed, in much the same position as a galley slave.
A third condition essentially necessary for happiness is family life. And again, the further advanced men are in worldly prosperity, the less accessible that happiness is for them. Most of them are adulterers, and voluntarily renounce all family ties. Even if they are not adulterers, they consider children as a burden rather than a joy, and try by all possible means to make their unions sterile. If they have children, they take no joy in them. They are obliged to confide them to others, for the most part to complete strangers; at first they are left to the care of foreign nurses or governesses, then sent to some government school, and the children grow up as miserable as their parents, and often have but one feeling toward their parents: the wish for their death, that they may inherit their property. These men are not prisoners, but the result is more painful than that entire separation from all family ties to which a prisoner is condemned.
A fourth condition essentially necessary for happiness is a free, friendly communication with all men. And again, the higher the step on which a man stands in the world, the further he is from this condition. The higher your position, the narrower and closer is the circle of men with whom you can have any communication, and the lower in intellectual and moral development are the few persons who form this spellbound circle, out of which there is no escape. The whole world is open to the peasant and his wife. If one million men refuse to have anything to do with him, there are eighty million working men left like himself, with whom, from Archangelsk to Astrachan, he enters immediately into the closest, most brotherly communication, without waiting to be called upon or introduced. There are, for a functionary and his wife, hundreds of men who are their equals; but their superiors do not admit them into their circle, and they are cut off from all the lower classes. There may be ten fashionable families for a rich man of the world and his wife, but they are cut off from all the rest. Bureaucrats and very wealthy men and their families may find about ten friends as important and as rich as themselves. The circle of emperors and kings is still more restricted. Isn’t that called solitary confinement, when a prisoner can only have communication with two or three jailers?
The fifth and last condition essentially necessary for happiness is health and a painless death. And again, the higher a man stands on the social scale, the further he is from it. Take, for instance, a moderately rich man and his wife, and a well-to-do countryman and his wife; in spite of hunger and the hard work – which is the peasant’s lot through the inhumanity of others, and not through any fault of his own – you will find, if you compare the two, that the lower men stand on the social scale the healthier they are, and the higher they stand the weaker they are in health. Recall to your minds all the rich men and their wives whom you have ever known, and those whom you know at present, and you will see that they almost all suffer from ill health. A healthy man among them – one who does not take medicine continually, or at least periodically every summer – is as great an exception as is a sick man among the working classes. Almost all the ‘fortunate beings’ are toothless, gray haired, or bald at the age when a working man is still in the full vigor of his manhood. They are almost all sufferers from nervous diseases, dyspepsia or worse, from over-eating, from drunkenness or depravity; and those who do not die young spend half their lives under medical treatment, using frequent injections of morphine, and becoming shriveled cripples, unable to maintain themselves; living on like parasites. Think of what the deaths of these men are: one has shot himself, another’s body has rotted from disease, another again has died in his old age from a too frequent use of medicines; one has died in a drunken fit, another of gluttony, etc. All perish, one after the other, for the world’s sake. And the crowd crawls after them like martyrs in search of suffering and death.
One life after another is cast under the wheels of their god; the carriage drives on, tearing lives to pieces, and again and again fresh victims fall under its wheels, with groans, wails, and curses.
It is difficult to live as Christ enjoins! Christ says, ‘He who will follow Me must leave houses, fields, and brethren, and he shall receive a hundredfold more than houses, fields and brethren in this world, and shall, besides, have life eternal.’ And none follow Him. The world says, ‘Leave your home and your brothers; leave the country to live in a corrupt town; pass your whole life either as a servant in a bath-house, soaping other people’s backs with vapor bath; or as a clerk, counting other people’s money; or as an attorney general, spending your life in courts of law, busied with various documents, in order to make the fate of the miserable more miserable still; or as a bureaucrat, hastily signing useless papers all your life; or as a commander-in-chief, killing your brethren. Lead a wicked life, the end of which is always a painful death, and you shall suffer in this life, and not attain eternal life’ – and all go the world’s way. Christ says, ‘Take up your cross, and follow Me,’ by which He means, ‘Bear the fate allotted you humbly, and submit to Me, your God’ – and none do so. But the first lost man, wearing an epaulet, and fit for nothing but murder, who says, ‘Take up, not the cross, but your knapsack and your sword, and follow me to suffering and certain death,’ is instantly obeyed.
Leaving their parents, their wives and children, they go in their buffoon attire, blindly submissive to some superior whom they hardly know; cold, hungry, worn out by a march above their strength, they follow him like a herd of oxen to the slaughter. But they are not oxen – they are men! They cannot help knowing that they are driven to slaughter, with the unsolvable question, ‘Why must I go?’ And with despair in their hearts they go on, many dieing off through cold, hunger, and infectious diseases, until those who are left are placed under bullets and cannon balls, and ordered to kill men whom they know nothing about. They kill and are at last killed themselves, and not one of those who kill their fellow-creature knows why he does so. The Turks roast them alive; they flay them; they tear out their bowels. And no sooner does anyone call than others go to the same dreadful suffering and to death. And nobody finds it hard. Neither do they themselves think it hard, nor do their fathers and mothers think so; the latter even advise their children to go. Not only do they think it necessary and unavoidable, but even perfectly right and moral.
We might think the fulfilling of Christ’s doctrine difficult if it were really an easy and pleasant thing to live according to the teaching of the world. But it is much more difficult, dangerous, and painful to do so than it is to live up to the doctrine of Christ.
It is said that formerly there were martyrs for Christianity, but these were exceptional cases; we reckon about three hundred and eighty thousand voluntary and involuntary martyrs for Christianity in the course of 1800 years. Now count those that have died for the teaching for the world, and for each martyr for Christianity you will find a thousand martyrs for the world’s sake, martyrs whose sufferings were a hundredfold more dreadful. Thirty million have been killed in war during the present century alone.
Those were all martyrs for the world’s sake. Had they but rejected the teaching of the world, even without following the doctrine of Christ, they would have escaped suffering and death.
Were a man but to act as he finds best for himself, were he but to refuse to go to war, he would have to dig ditches; but he would not be tortured in Sebastopool or Plevna. Let a man not believe that it is indispensable to wear a watch chain and to have useless drawing rooms, let him but understand that all the foolish things the world teaches him to consider as indispensable are but useless trash, and he will not work beyond his strength; he will not have to endure suffering and constant care; he will not have to labor without purpose or rest; He will not be deprived of communion with nature, or of the work he loves, or of his family or his health, and he will not die a uselessly painful death.
We need not be martyrs for Christ’s sake; that is not what He requires of us. But He teaches us to cease making ourselves martyrs for the sake of the false teaching of the world.
The doctrine of Christ has a deep metaphysical purpose; it has a purpose general to all humanity; the doctrine of Christ has the simplest, clearest, most practicable purpose for each of us. We may express this idea in a few words. Christ teaches men not to act foolishly. In this lies the simplest sense of Christ’s doctrine, and it is one each has it in his power to understand.
Christ says, ‘Never give way to angry feelings, nor consider another as worse than yourself; it is foolish. If you give way to anger, if you abuse others, it will be worse for you.’ Christ says, too, ‘Do not lust after all women, but take one to you, and live with her; it will be better for you.’ He says, likewise, ‘Make no promise, lest you be forced to act foolishly and wickedly.’ He says, likewise, ‘Never return evil for evil, for it will fall back upon you.’ Christ says, ‘Consider no men as strangers to you because they live in other lands and speak in other tongues than you do. If you consider them as your enemies, they will do the same with respect to you, and it will be worse for you. Do not act thus, and it will be better for you.’
Yes, but as the world is organized it is more difficult to resist it than to live up to its precepts. If a man refuses to become a soldier he will be imprisoned, and possibly shot. If a man does not assure his future by acquiring property for himself and his family, they will all starve. Men say so in order to defend the social organization of the world, but they do not think so themselves. They say so only because they cannot deny the justice of Christ’s doctrine, which they pretend to believe in, and they must justify themselves in some way for not fulfilling it.
Christ calls men to the spring that is near them. Men suffer from thirst, eat mud, and drink each other’s blood; but their teachers have told them that they will suffer more if they go to the spring toward which Christ calls them, and men believe them rather than Christ, and suffer and die of thirst when they are but a few steps from the spring, and dare not approach it. But if we believed in Christ, if we believed that He came to bring bliss on earth, if we believed that He offers us, who are thirsting, a spring of living water, if we drew near to it, we should see how craftily we are deceived by the Church, and how senseless it is to suffer as we do, when salvation is so near. Accept the doctrine of Christ in all its sublime simplicity, and the grievous deception in which you all live will grow clear to you.
We labor, generation after generation, to secure our lives by violence and the consolidation of property. We think that our happiness depends upon power and property. We are so used to that idea that the doctrine of Christ – which teaches us that the happiness of man does not lie in wealth, that a rich man cannot be happy – seems to us to require some great sacrifice for the sake of future bliss. And yet Christ does not call upon us to make any sacrifice; His doctrine does not tend toward making our present lives worse for us, but better. Christ in His infinite love teaches men to forbear from trying to assure their lives by violence, from caring about riches, just as philanthropists teach men to forbear from quarrelling and drunkenness. Christ says that if men live without resisting evil, and without riches, they will be happier, and He confirms His teaching by His own life. He says that he who lives according to His doctrine must be ready to die at any moment of his life, either of cold or hunger, and cannot call a single hour of his life his own. And so it seems that Christ requires great sacrifices of us; yet it is but a general assertion of the inevitable condition of each man. The follower of Christ must always be ready to suffer and to die. Isn’t the follower of the world in the same position? We are so used to the deception we are in that we have come to consider all that we do for the imaginary security of our lives – our armies, fortresses, medicines, property, and money – as indispensable for the welfare of our lives. We forget what happened to him who intended to build barns, in order to provide himself with riches for a long time. He died the same night. All we do for the security of our lives is but what the ostrich does when hiding its head in order not to see itself killed. We do worse, for in order to secure an uncertain life, for an uncertain future, we resolutely ruin our real lives in the actual present.
The deception lies in the false assumption that we can secure the welfare of our lives by a struggle with others. We are so used to this erroneous idea that we do not see all we lose. We lose even our lives. Our lives are swallowed up in the cares of this world, so that no real life is left.
Let us set aside all we have become so used to, and then we shall see that all we do for the imaginary security of our lives is not done to assure our welfare, but to make us forget that our life here is not secure, and that it never can be secure. The French take up arms in the year 1870 to assure their existence, and that leads to the destruction of hundreds and thousands of Frenchmen; and every nation that takes up arms does the same thing with the same result. The rich man thinks his money assures the welfare of his life, and the money attracts a robber who kills him. A man who is overly careful of his health seeks to assure it by taking medicine, and the medicine kills him by slow degrees; and even if it does not kill him, it deprives him of all vigor and makes him like the paralytic who hardly lived during thirty-five years, while waiting for the angel at the pool.
The doctrine of Christ – that life cannot be assured, and that we must be ready for suffering and death every moment of our lives – is incontestably better than the teaching of the world, which says that we must strive to make our lives as comfortable as we can; it is better because, though the impossibility of avoiding death and the uncertainty of life are the same, yet, according to Christ’s doctrine, life is not wholly swallowed up in the idle employment of trying to ensure our own comfort, but is free, and can be given up to the only aim natural to it, namely, our own happiness in that of others. The follower of Christ will be poor. Yes, but he will enjoy the blessings given to him by God. We have come to consider the word ‘poverty’ as expressive of misery, yet it really is happiness. ‘He is poor’ means that he does not live in a town, but in the country; he does not sit idly at home, but labors in the fields or the woods; he sees the sunshine, the sky, beasts, and birds; he need not take thought what he shall do to excite his appetite, to facilitate his digestion; but he feels hungry three times a day. He does not toss about on his soft pillows thinking how to cure himself of sleeplessness, but sleeps soundly after his work. He sees his children around him, and lives in friendly communion with men. The main point is that he is not obliged to do work that he hates, and he need not fear the future. He will be ill, suffer, and die as others do (and judging by the way the poor suffer and die, his death will be an easier one than that of the rich); but he will indubitably have led a happier life. We must be poor, we must be beggars, wanderers on the face of the earth (pt???? means ‘wanderer’); that is what Christ taught us, and without it we cannot enter the
‘But then we shall starve,’ is the answer. Christ has given to us one short saying in reply to this observation, a saying that has been usually interpreted as justifying the idleness of the clergy.
Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7. ‘Take neither money for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a walking stick, because he who works is worthy of his meat. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give; for the laborer is worthy of his hire.’
He who works (e?e?t) signifies literally, ‘can and shall have food.’ It is a very short saying, but he who understands it as Christ did, will never argue that if a man has no personal property he must die of hunger. In order to understand the saying clearly, we must renounce the idea that the dogma of the redemption has made habitual to us: that the happiness of man lies in idleness. We must re-establish in our minds the idea, natural to all unperverted men, that the necessary condition of happiness for man is labor, and not idleness; that every man must labor, that his life will be as wearisome and as hard without work as it is for an ant, a horse, or any other animal. We must cast aside the barbarous idea that the condition of a man who has an inexhaustible ruble in his pocket – a lucrative post, or some landed property that enables him to live in idleness – is a naturally happy condition. We must re-establish in our minds the idea of labor that all unperverted men have, and to which Christ referred when He said that ‘the laborer is worthy of his hire.’ Christ never could have thought that men would come to consider labor as a curse, and therefore He could not imagine a man who did not work, or who had no wish to work. It was an understood thing for Him that all His followers labored, and He says that a man’s labor feeds Him. And if one man profits from the work of another man, he will feed him who works for him; and so he who labors will always have food. He will not be rich; but there can be no doubt of his having food.
The difference is that, according to the teaching of the world, labor is a man’s service, for which he considers himself entitled to more or less food in proportion to the work he does; while according to the doctrine of Christ labor is the necessary condition of life, and food is its inevitable consequence. Work is the result of food, and food is the result of work; it is an eternal cycle – one is the effect and the cause of the other. However hard hearted a man may be, he will feed his workman as he feeds his horse, and he will give the workman sufficient food to enable him to work.
‘The Son of Man came, not be ministered to, but to minister, and to give His soul as a ransom for many.’ According to the doctrine of Christ every man will lead a better life if he understands that his duty is not to get as much work as he can out of others, but to pass his own life in working for them. The man who acts thus, Christ says, is worthy of his hire, and he cannot fail to obtain it. By the words ‘Man does not live to be ministered to, but to minister to others’, Christ lays the foundation of what is to assure the material existence of man; and by the words ‘he who works is worthy of his hire’ Christ sets aside the argument, so often used against the possibility of fulfilling His doctrine, that he who does so will perish of hunger and cold. Christ shows that a man does not assure his own food by depriving others of it, but by making himself useful and necessary. The more useful he is, the more assured his existence will be.
In our present social adjustments, those who do not fulfill the law of Christ, but who are forced by poverty to work for their neighbors, do not starve. Then how can we say that those who do fulfill His commandments, who work for their fellow-creatures, will starve? No man can starve while the rich have bread. Millions of men in
A Christian will be as sure of his daily bread among pagans as among Christians. He works for others, consequently he is of use to them, and therefore he will be fed. A dog that is useful is fed and taken care of, then how can we think a human being will not be fed and taken care of?
But if a man is sick, he is of no use; he cannot work; no one will give him food. People say so, but they act in a very different way. The very persons who deny the practicability of Christ’s doctrine, in fact fulfill it. They do not even cast a sheep, an ox, or a dog that is ill adrift, neither do they kill an old horse, but give it work proportionate to its strength; they feed their lambs, their sucking pigs, and puppies in expectation of deriving profit from them by and by, and will they not feed a man when he falls ill?
Nine-tenths of the lower classes are fed, as beasts of burden are, by the one-tenth – by the rich and powerful of the earth. And however great the error may be in which this one-tenth lives, and however much they may despise the other nine-tenths, they never deprive the other nine-tenths of the food necessary for their sustenance.
Wherever man has worked, he has received food, as each horse receives its fodder. He is fed even though he works grudgingly, unwillingly, only caring to get his daily labor over as quickly as possible, or longing to earn as much as possible in order to get the upper hand of his master. Even he does not remain without food, and he is happier than the one who lives by the labor of others. And how much happier would the man be who worked in accordance with the doctrine of Christ, whose aim would be to work as much as possible, and to receive as little as possible! How much happier will his position be when there will be several around him, perhaps many such as he who will serve him in his turn.
The doctrine of Christ about work and its fruit is shown in the story of the five and seven thousand men fed with two fish and five loaves. Man will attain the highest happiness possible on earth when each, instead of only caring about his own personal comfort, acts as Christ taught those assembled on the seashore to do.
It was necessary to feed several thousand men. One of the disciples said to Christ that a boy there had a few fish. The disciples had also a few loaves. Christ knew that some of those who had come from a distance had brought food with them and others had not. That many had brought provisions with them is evident from there being twelve basketfuls gathered of what remained, as we read in all the four gospels. (If nobody had had anything except the boy, there would not have been twelve baskets in the field.) Had Christ not done what He did, that is, the ‘miracle’ of feeding thousands with five loaves, what now takes place in the world would have taken place them. Those who had provisions with them would have eaten all they had and would have over-eaten rather than see that anything should be left. Misers would perhaps have taken the remainder home. Those who had nothing would have remained hungry, looking on with wicked envy at those who ate, and some would very likely have stolen from those who had provisions. Quarrelling and fighting would have ensued, and some would have gone home satisfied, the others hungry and cross; exactly what takes place in our present lives would have happened then.
But Christ knew what He meant to do; He told them all to sit in a circle and enjoined His disciples to offer a part of what they had to those next them, and to tell others to do the same. The result was that when all those who had brought provisions with them followed the example set them by the disciples, and offered a share of their provisions to others, there was enough for all. All were satisfied, and so much remained that twelve baskets were filled.
Christ teaches men to act thus in all the circumstances of life, for this is the law of humanity. Labor is the necessary condition of life; and work is a source of happiness for man. But if a man keeps to himself the fruit of his own or others’ work, he prevents its contributing to the general good of mankind. By giving up his work to others he acts for the good of all.
We are accustomed to say, ‘If men do not despoil each other they will starve.’ Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that if men despoil each other there will always be some who will starve, for that is the actual fact.
It does not matter if a man is a follower of Christ or a follower of the world; he is never entirely independent of others. Others have taken care of him, fed him, and still take care of him. But, according to the teaching of the world, man forces others to continue feeding him and his family by threats and violence. According to Christ’s doctrine, man is taken care of, brought up and fed by others; and he does not force others to continue feeding him, but tries to serve others in his turn, to do as much good as possible to all his fellow-creatures. Which life is then a truer, more rational, and happier one? Is it a life in accordance with the teaching of the world, or in accordance with Christ’s doctrine?