It is a great law of our being that we become like those things we contemplate. If we contemplate those that are true and noble and elevating, we grow in the likeness of these. If we contemplate merely material things, as gold or silver or copper or iron, our souls, our natures, and even our faces become like them, hard and flinty, robbed of their finer and better and grander qualities. Call to mind the person or picture of the miser, and you will quickly see that this is true. Merely nature’s great law. He thought he was going to be a master: he finds himself the slave. Instead of possessing his wealth, his wealth possesses him. How often have I seen persons of nearly or quite this kind! Some can be found almost anywhere. You can call to mind a few, perhaps many.
During the past two or three years two well-known millionaires in the United States, millionaires many times over, have died. The one started into life with the idea of acquiring a great name by accumulating great wealth. These two things he had in mind,–self and great wealth. And, as he went on, he gradually became so that he could see nothing but these. The greed for gain soon made him more and more the slave; and he, knowing nothing other than obedience to his master, piled and accumulated and hoarded, and after spending all his days thus, he then lay down and died, taking not so much as one poor little penny with him, only a soul dwarfed compared to what it otherwise might have been. For it might have been the soul of a royal master instead of that of an abject slave.
The papers noted his death with seldom even a single word of praise. It was regretted by few, and he was mourned by still fewer. And even at his death he was spoken of by thousands in words far from complimentary, all uniting in saying what he might have been and done, what a tremendous power for good, how he might have been loved and honored during his life, and at death mourned and blessed by the entire nation, the entire world. A pitiable sight, indeed, to see a human mind, a human soul, thus voluntarily enslave itself for a few temporary pieces of metal.
The other started into life with the principle that a man’s success is to be measured by his _direct usefulness_ to his fellow-men, to the world in which he lives, and by this alone; that private wealth is merely a _private trust_ to be used for the highest good of mankind. Under the benign influences of this mighty principle of service, we see him great, influential, wealthy; his whole nature expanding, himself growing large-hearted, generous, magnanimous, serving his State, his country, his fellow-men, writing his name on the hearts of all he comes in contact with, so that his name is never thought of by them without feelings of gratitude and praise.
Then as the chief service to his fellow-men, next to his own personal influence and example, he uses his vast fortune, this vast private trust, for the founding and endowing of a great institution of learning, using his splendid business capacities in its organization, having uppermost in mind in its building that young men and young women may there have every advantage at the least possible expense to fit themselves in turn for the greatest _direct usefulness_ to their fellow-men while they live in the world.
In the midst of these activities the news comes of his death. Many hearts now are sad. The true, large-hearted, sympathizing friend, the servant of rich and poor alike, has gone away. Countless numbers whom he has befriended, encouraged, helped, and served, bless his name, and give thanks that such a life has been lived. His own great State rises up as his pall-bearers, while the entire nation acts as honorary pall-bearers. Who can estimate the influence of a life such as this? But it cannot be estimated; for it will flow from the ones personally influenced to others, and through them to others throughout eternity. He alone who in His righteous balance weighs each human act can estimate it. And his final munificent gift to mankind will make his name remembered and honored and blessed long after the accumulations of mere plutocrats are scattered and mankind forgets that they have ever lived.
Then have as your object the accumulation of great wealth if you choose; but bear in mind that, unless you are able to get beyond self, it will make you not great, but small, and you will rob life of the finer and better things in it. If, on the other hand, you are guided by the principle that private wealth is but a _private trust_, and that _direct usefulness_ or service to mankind is the only real measure of true greatness, and bring your life into harmony with it, then you will become and will be counted great; and with it will come that rich joy and happiness and satisfaction that always accompanies a life of true service, and therefore the best and truest life.
One can never afford to forget that personality, life, and character, that there may be the greatest service, are the chief things, and wealth merely the _incident_. Nor can one afford to be among those who are too mean, too small, or too stingy to invest in anything that will grow and increase these.