It would seem almost grotesque to use the word _selfish_ in connection with this great name. He very early, and when still in a very humble and lowly station in life, either consciously or unconsciously grasped this great truth, and in making the great underlying principle of his life to serve, to help his fellow-men, he adopted just that course that has made him one of the greatest of the sons of men, our royal-hearted elder brother. He never spent time in asking what he could do to attain to greatness, to popularity, to power, what to perpetuate his name and memory. He simply asked how he could help, how he could be of service to his fellow-men, and continually did all his hands found to do.
He simply put his life into harmony with this great principle; and in so doing he adopted the best means,–the _only_ means to secure that which countless numbers seek and strive for directly, and every time so woefully fail in finding.
There comes to my mind in this same connection another princely soul, one who loved all the world, one whom all the world loves and delights to honor. There comes to mind also a little incident that will furnish an insight into the reason of it all. On an afternoon not long ago, Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher was telling me of some of the characteristics of Brooklyn’s great preacher. While she was yet speaking of some of those along the very lines we are considering, an old gentleman, a neighbor, came into the room bearing in his hands something he had brought from Mr. Beecher’s grave. It was the day next following Decoration Day. His story was this: As the great procession was moving into the cemetery with its bands of rich music, with its carriages laden with sweet and fragrant flowers, with its waving flags, beautiful in the sunlight, a poor and humble-looking woman with two companions, by her apparent nervousness attracted the attention of the gate-keeper. He kept her in view for a little while, and presently saw her as she gave something she had partially concealed to one of her companions, who, leaving the procession, went over to the grave of Mr. Beecher, and tenderly laid it there. Reverently she stood for a moment or two, and then, retracing her steps, joined her two companions, who with bowed heads were waiting by the wayside.
It was this that the old gentleman had brought,–a gold frame, and in it a poem cut from a volume, a singularly beautiful poem through which was breathed the spirit of love and service and self-devotion to the good and the needs of others. At one or two places where it fitted, the pen had been drawn across a word and Mr. Beecher’s name inserted, which served to give it a still more real, vivid, and tender meaning. At the bottom this only was written, “From a poor Hebrew woman to the immortal friend of the Hebrews.” There was no name, but this was sufficient to tell the whole story. Some poor, humble woman, but one out of a mighty number whom he had at some time befriended or helped or cheered, whose burden he had helped to carry, and soon perhaps had forgotten all about it. When we remember that this was his life, is it at all necessary to seek farther why all the world delights to honor this, another royal-hearted elder brother? and, as we think of this simple, beautiful, and touching incident, how true and living becomes the thought in the old, old lines!–
“Cast thy bread upon the waters, waft it on with praying breath,
In some distant, doubtful moment it may save a soul from death.
When you sleep in solemn silence, ‘neath the morn and evening dew,
Stranger hands which you have strengthened may strew lilies over you.”
Our good friend, Henry Drummond, in one of his most beautiful and valuable little works says–and how admirably and how truly!–that “love is the greatest thing in the world.” Have you this greatest thing? Yes. How, then, does it manifest itself? In kindliness, in helpfulness, in service, to those around you? If so, well and good, you have it. If not, then I suspect that what you have been calling love is something else; and you have indeed been greatly fooled. In fact, I am sure it is; for if it does not manifest itself in this way, it cannot be true love, for this is the one grand and never-failing test. Love is the statics, helpfulness and service the dynamics, the former necessary to the latter, but the latter the more powerful, as action is always more powerful than potentiality; and, were it not for the dynamics, the statics might as well not be. Helpfulness, kindliness, service, is but the expression of love. It is love in action; and unless love thus manifests itself in action, it is an indication that it is of that weak and sickly nature that needs exercise, growth, and development, that it may grow and become strong, healthy, vigorous, and true, instead of remaining a little, weak, indefinite, sentimental something or nothing.